Cedar Coffee owner, Ukrainian refugee celebrates 4th anniversary in U.S.

How a Ukrainian refugee’s tenacious love for coffee carried him to small-business success

By Katherine Bell
Communications Coordinator, Spokane

During his daily commute in Ukraine, Igor Anisimov passed a local coffee roaster every morning. One day, after years of resisting the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee, he finally gave in. That was the day he fell in love with coffee.

“I was hooked!” Igor said, recalling the experience of his first cup of coffee. “I told my wife, ‘I tried the amazing coffee!’ And it was like ‘Opa!’”

Igor and his wife/business partner Iryna returned to the shop every day for the next five years. In 2014, they opened their own coffee shop in Ukraine. Shortly after, escalating violence in the region and the Russian annexation of Crimea forced the Anisimovs to close their shop and flee their home. After witnessing tragic loss and destruction, Igor and his family made the decision to file for refugee status.

In September 2015, they arrived in the U.S., and right from the start, Igor had his sights set on coffee.

“He was talking about coffee from the first day,” said Pingala Dhital, an Employment Specialist at World Relief.

During his first month in the U.S., Pingala assisted Igor in his job search, helping him work on application materials and submit them all over the city. According to Pingala, Igor all but refused to accept any job that was not coffee-related. Over several months, Igor made multiple attempts to work in the coffee industry, but at the time his English was inadequate for most service positions. Determined and persistent, Igor began volunteering with Starbucks in exchange for barista training, just to be around coffee.

“I decide what I love: coffee,” Igor said. “I thought, maybe from my love I can make money! Love and money is great happiness.”

Igor began pursuing his dreams of opening his own coffee shop after only a year in the U.S. However, lacking the credit history and language proficiency necessary to procure a loan, his chances were slim.

“My parents, my friends, everybody said, ‘You are stupid. You can’t do it. You will fail,’” he said.

Despite skepticism from his community, Igor’s commitment to his dream of owning a small business in the U.S. was convincing, and the Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners’ (SNAP) Financial Access and Business Development services agreed to give him the loan. Igor attributes his success in large part to Iryna’s intuition, creativity and radiant hope. She is also responsible for the development of many of Cedar Coffee’s specialty drinks, as well as the design of the interior space.

As Igor, Iryna and their son celebrate their fourth year in the U.S., and also celebrate business success – Igor expressed plans to begin roasting coffee in-house and is considering opening another shop in the next few years. As the business grows, Igor is committed to serving only top-notch coffee made with highest quality ingredients that he and Iyrna have served from the start.

“Drinking coffee is art,” Igor said. “It’s not just cup of water, it’s to enjoy. You need to ‘Opa!’”


Against All Odds: Hamsa’s Journey

By Meghan Long
Communications Fellow

Hamsa redefines the meaning of hard work, perseverance, and independence. When she first arrived in Spokane in January of 2013, she was highly qualified in many areas; she possessed a degree in English from the University of Baghdad, had a thriving marriage, and had just had her first daughter, Lina.

While living in Iraq, Hamsa and her husband Masar both worked as translators for the US military after obtaining their degrees. Masar worked directly with the military as a speaking translator, and Hamsa worked as a writing translator for a company that produced newspapers and other articles.

However, the war was beginning to get very personal for the two of them. Because they were working with the US military, they were vulnerable targets for Al-Qaeda. They both felt increasingly unsafe in their neighborhood. “They were threatening Masar and his family,” Hamsa says. “I felt like there was no one to protect us. They left a letter on our front door with a bullet.”

After this happened, they knew it was time to get out of Iraq and find safety for themselves and their future family. After two years of waiting, they finally were approved to move to the United States. They came straight to Spokane to begin their new journey.

They both enrolled in the Spokane Community College English as a Second Language program soon after arriving to Spokane. “I passed the written courses in two weeks, but speaking was hard,” Hamsa says. “For my husband, it was the opposite; he spent two years translating for the army, so he could speak very well, but writing was hard for him.” Regardless of their struggles, both of them stood out in the program because of their college education.

In 2015, Hamsa and Masar both enrolled the Vascular Technology program at Spokane Community College. They graduated from the program in 2018. Unfortunately, they did not find jobs right away, though they were very capable. “I had one interview,” Hamsa says. “But I didn’t make it. But where I trained, at Holy Family, they offered me an on-call job…. It’s basically a part time job, though. They call me almost every day.”

Hamsa is expecting another girl in early November, and has been working diligently to provide a warm, fun upbringing for her daughters in Spokane. Her mother still hasn’t met five-year-old Haya, the youngest daughter. She wants her mother to come for the delivery of the new baby, but the current state of our refugee resettlement program might make this impossible.

To have someone as diligent and hardworking as Hamsa in our city is a gift. She has already made a great impact on our community because of her knowledge and ultimately because of her friendship. Against all odds, Hamsa and her family are building a successful, fruitful life in our community

Friendship knows no borders: Sarah and Samire

By Meghan Long
Communications Fellow

Meeting Sarah and Samire, you would think they were sisters. Their contagious laughter and love for one another exudes true friendship. This unique and unbreakable bond would not have been formed if the girls hadn’t met in Spokane after resettling as refugees.

Sarah is from Iraq and Samire is from Afghanistan. These countries provided a traumatic upbringing for them, including the loss of many family members and living in war torn areas.

In 2006, Sarah and her family fled from Iraq to Syria to live for five years. In 2011, they had to go back to Iraq because of the Syrian war. Samire fled to Turkey from Afghanistan with her family in 2008. Both girls finally resettled in the U.S. in 2014.

Their individual journeys to the U.S. looked a lot different, but their destination was the same – North Spokane’s Mead High School. One afternoon during the first week of their freshman year, Sarah and Samire got off at the same bus stop and found out they lived in the same apartment complex. Every semester after that initial meeting, the pair had the same class schedule.

Both girls knew that moving to the U.S. would involve a lot of adjusting. Nothing was familiar anymore; they had to get used to new foods, new forms of transportation, and a new school system. But what the girls didn’t know was that even in the midst of intense change and an inexplicable sense of loss, they would find a lifelong best friend in each other and a helper through all the change. “I would like to have her in my life forever,” Sami says.

Samire decided to transfer to Mt. Spokane after her sophomore year at Mead. Without hesitation, Sarah followed – another testament to the strong and authentic friendship they share. “At first I didn’t want to leave Mead, but after I saw that she was going, I didn’t want to leave her,” Sarah says.

After graduating from Mt. Spokane with honors, they worked together for two years at Whitworth University’s cafeteria. They loved working together and watching each other grow in their positions. “She was the pizza lady,” Sarah says, laughing about her pizza-serving friend. “And she will always be there for me. Even if we fight or don’t talk for a long time, I know she will always be there for me.”

Both girls have dreams of becoming a part of the FBI. “My teachers at SCC encouraged me to think about the FBI because I can speak Arabic,” Sarah says. Originally, Samire was going to SCC for a degree in civil engineering, but she says she’s leaning towards changing her major. “My biggest dream is to make my dad proud, and to be a useful person for our community. I’d love to help bring peace to the whole world. I don’t want any more war.”

Likewise, Sarah wants to see change in our community and globally when it comes to relational strife and war. “This is what everyone wants; peace in the whole world. You know, we have been through a lot in our home countries. We have seen enough.”

These two powerful, smart, and compassionate young women have already had a profound impact on the Spokane community and will continue doing so through their unique and indestructible friendship.

Threads of Hope: Shamsa’s Story

By Meghan Long
Communications Fellow

The new sewing center started by World Relief has had a profound impact on 22-year-old Shamsa, who moved to Spokane three years ago. Not only has the center shown her how to practically care for her family, but through the six-week sewing class WEAVE (Women Empowered to Achieve Vocational Enrichment), she has met other motivated refugee women in the area. Her ten-month old daughter, Salwa, is her pride and joy, and having the opportunity to learn something new has made her excited to continue providing for her little girl. “Even if you go back to your home country, or somewhere else, or stay in the United States, if you learn how to sew, you might get some jobs,” Shamsa says. Family is very important to Shamsa, and her household of five will greatly benefit from this new program.

However, family life has not always been as joy-filled for Shamsa as it is now. In 2007 when she was living with her large family in Somalia, the ongoing civil war wreaked havoc on them. “I lost too many people,” Shamsa recalls. “I lost my twin sister and my older brother because of the war… and then, we moved immediately the next morning,” she says about uprooting her normal but dangerous life in Somalia and moving to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She also lost her father before fleeing. With only her mom and two brothers, she worked at Camp Awbare for eight years while she patiently waited to come to the United States.

Shamsa helped her fellow refugees who were sick and during that time she met her husband, Hassen. The pair was together for seven years, but due to differences in paperwork, Hassen was unable to come with Shamsa and her immediate family to Spokane.

Shamsa, her two surviving brothers and her mother arrived in the U.S on March 1st, 2016. “I’m so happy, so glad to be here, but I still can’t forget what happened to me. It’s so sad for me,” she says. “I try to forget, but I cannot. When we came here, we really try to lose all that.”

She worked at Spokane Produce for almost two years and then Goodwill to help support her family. She cannot say enough how much she appreciates those companies, because they gave her hope for the future. “Now, I can help my family, friends, myself, and do everything I wanted to do, like go to school,” Shamsa excitedly shares. “Lives change, you can work and while you work you can go study, and you can support your family.”

Shamsa has applied for her husband to come to the United States, but he is still waiting for an immigration interview in Ethiopia. She is hopeful that he will be able to resettle soon so that he can live with the family.

“Jesus Chose Us for Each Other”: Oliva and Arooj

By Elyse Herrera
Digital Communications Intern

When Arooj stepped into Spokane a little over two years ago, her life was “a blank page, completely.” She had so many fears about entering this new “white world.” Shortly after arriving, there came an opportunity for friendship, something Arooj embraced head-on in her relationship with a World Relief volunteer, Olivia.

Originally from Pakistan, Arooj lived as a refugee in Sri Lanka for four years before coming to America and eventually Spokane. “As a refugee,” Arooj described, “I have always been depending on somebody.” With the help of World Relief and Olivia, she found “the hope I needed to survive.”

Arooj and Olivia’s friendship began shortly after Arooj moved into her apartment in Spokane, when World Relief matched the two of them.  They described a bond formed mostly in the ordinariness of life – things like mailing letters and moving furniture. Whether it be through installing WiFi together, watching Pakistani music videos, drinking coffee or having photo shoots, Olivia and Arooj continue to enjoy every moment together.

For Arooj, the best part about their friendship is that they “don’t care about the time. No matter how many days or months pass, whenever [they] get to see each other there will be the same feeling and the same joy.”

Of the many things Olivia describes as having learned from Arooj throughout their friendship, she is most inspired by her independence and joy. Arooj’s ability to individually “navigate so many things on her own” while being here without any of her family is impactful for Olivia and amazing to see. “She is effervescent,” Olivia says, and to have consistent joy amidst many difficulties is something Olivia says she “learns from Arooj not just once but all the time.”

Arooj and Olivia treat one another like family. “When I met her she just gave me a feeling of my mom,” Arooj described about Olivia. “It has been seven years since I saw my mom, and when I met Olivia, I thought, ‘I don’t want to let her go.’” Both of these women are each other’s “life savers,” treasure and joy.

Most of all, Olivia and Arooj are grateful to know one another. Of their friendship, Olivia is certain that is it unique, saying, “we didn’t choose each other. Jesus chose us for each other.”

Raheem and Thomas: An Unexpected Brotherhood

By Elyse Herrera
Digital Communications Intern

When Thomas Steiner and Raheem Abbas met two years ago, neither could have anticipated the profound impact they would have on each other’s lives today.

Thomas was assigned to be Raheem’s volunteer by World Relief shortly after Raheem arrived from Iraq, and what started as a refugee/volunteer relationship quickly turned into a brotherhood. They were “fast friends,” Thomas describes. After introducing Raheem to a member of his church, referring to Raheem as his friend, Thomas says, “Raheem corrected me and said, ‘no, he’s my brother.’’ Having grown up with five sisters, Raheem described joyfully, “now I really have a brother.”

The brothers bonded over now-shared faith. Thomas, visibly impressed by Raheem, said “in a country where I didn’t understand the language, I don’t know that I would have stuck to it.” As he walks beside Raheem through his experiences as a refugee and a Christian, Thomas says that he is “just doing what my parents taught me: to treat others the way you want to be treated.” Raheem’s deep respect for Thomas’ faith is evident. Raheem described, “some people cry and speak for God, but don’t do anything good, but this guy, I love this guy because he has a good heart.”

Their involvement with church is very important to Raheem and Thomas, and their faith has helped them to overcome many of their differences. At the beginning of their friendship, Raheem and Thomas often met over tea or soup, and together they discussed their countries of origin. “We had been told lies,” Thomas said. Through television and media, both the American and Iraqi people were being “portrayed poorly” in the other nation, they said. Thomas described that sometime before Raheem and he met, his “heart towards people from different nations was totally different,” and that God prepared him by turning his heart toward people from Iraq. Thomas reflected, “God has worked in my heart and in Raheem’samidst their differences.

Raheem serves in City Church regularly, and he and Thomas attend the church’s men’s group. The two are looking forward to the summer months, camping together and continuing to enjoy life with one another as brothers.

In the last few years, World Relief has welcomed many refugees like Raheem, people who would love to have an American brother or sister. If you are not volunteering with World Relief already, please consider signing up to be a refugee’s American friend. Learn more here.

If you already volunteer with World Relief, we are so grateful for your service. As a way to express our thanks, we are hosting a movie day for you, your family, and your refugee friends on April 27th from 2 to 4 p.m. Learn more and RSVP by clicking here.

“If God Gave Me This Opportunity, I’m Going to Use It:” Jeanine’s Story

by Elyse Herrera
Digital Communications Intern

The work of gratitude is powerful, and within the context of Jeanine Kayitesi’s Congo-to-Spokane story, the impact of immense gratefulness and opportunity is impossible to ignore. Jeanine, in her bright, fun, intelligent, and peaceful presence holds all of these characteristics and more. Alongside being a student, a nursing assistant, a sister, friend and daughter, Jeanine is also a valuable member of the Spokane refugee community, representing one of the 10,000 refugees in the Spokane area.

Jeanine was born and raised for several years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation, she says, is filled with risk and civil war. After the death of her father, Jeanine’s mother knew “there was no point in staying.” After making the decision to leave the country, the Kayitesi family became first of many to live in a newly established refugee camp in Rwanda—a nation which now houses over 170,000 refugees. Within the environment of the camp, Jeanine describes, “the only thing that gave us hope” was the possibility of “one day going back” to the Congo. Despite the lack of basic needs and resources, Jeanine remembers how easy it was to “just accept what life you had there.”

In the Rwandan camp, they found “a sense of community” in the collaborative work it took to survive. Everyone’s differences disappeared. Jeanine says there was no room in the camp for anyone to say or think, “I’m better than you,” because everyone “lived in the same place and ate the same food.” They were bonded by their equal need and shared persecution, a kind of community from which many wish to escape, and which less than 1% globally are rescued from. Looking back on that time, Jeanine remembers how unexpected, if not unimaginable a future, somewhere safer seemed.

When the opportunity came for Jeanine’s family to move to a safer place, they took it. Interviews to qualify for international resettlement were available “once every couple of years,” and were intensely held. More than having to answer tough questions, the interview experience, Jeanine says, “brings the memory back” of the war and danger in the Congo; the hardship and tragedy of the past. Still a point of reflection for Jeanine, she says “it’s so hard to open up,” throughout the entire process. Jeanine said “it was a shock” finding out that her family had been chosen to come to America. The Kayitesi’s were among the first families in their Rwandan camp to leave, and Jeanine describes that it was “because of the grace of God” that her family was given the opportunity for a safer life.

In Jeanine’s eyes, America was a paradise, but the unknown of a new country was scary and difficult. On their “confusing,” “huge,” and “overwhelming” journey from Rwanda, through New York to Spokane, Jeanine’s family was surrounded by foreign customs and languages. However, as soon as they landed and were welcomed “with open arms,” Jeanine says, they “really felt safe and really felt like this could work.” Thinking back on her story and the process of coming to Spokane, Jeanine shared, “It’s been a long journey so far, but I’m not complaining. I’m just grateful for everything. This is a home now. It became home. It took me a little while. Now I can be open to new things that happen, and you know, just keep living.”

Something Jeanine is continuously grateful for since coming to Spokane is her education. Jeanine describes her college education as being “the most rewarding thing for me here,” and her success in school has been incredible for her. Never having thought she could go to college, let alone finish high school, Jeanine remembers the normal trajectory for girls her age in her home country. Most of Jeanine’s friends from the Congo, and Rwanda “would go get married or pregnant straight after eighth grade.” Thanks to her hard work, Jeanine’s educational successes and experience has gone far beyond what she ever imagined could be possible. When her teachers in high school encouraged her to apply for college, she knew, “if God gives me this opportunity, I’m going to use it.”

Jeanine will graduate this spring from Eastern Washington University with a degree in Communications, an area of study she describes as requiring “tons of research” and as being “a good way to practice my communication in English.” More than a rigorous work load, her college career has created academic and social communities for her. Experiencing a university education and being able to “go through the same things” as her fellow students has been a wonderful way for Jeanine to get involved in her surrounding communities.

Even though she does not know exactly what the future holds, Jeanine is “grateful [she] made that decision” to go to school and tries to live “moment by moment,” taking advantage of every opportunity God gives her.

‘Love to Love:’ Bushra and Ahmed’s message to the world

By Rachel French
Guest Writer and Gonzaga University Senior

“What was life like in Iraq? Can you describe what your daily life looked like?”

Bushra looked at her husband, Ahmed, as if to search for some sort of response. Maybe it was the language barrier that prevented them from understanding the question, or maybe it was the nature of the question itself. Sensing her parents’ confusion, Farah, the eldest daughter, translated my words into Arabic.

“Waiting. I waited every day,” said Bushra.

She was referring to Ahmed’s work as a vendor for the U.S. Army. Every week, Ahmed made the trip from his home in Babylon to the military base in Baghdad. Bushra waited nervously for his return, fearing that he would be kidnapped or killed. This was not an uncommon occurrence in Bushra and Ahmed’s community. Ahmed’s two brothers were viciously murdered for reasons unknown to their family. They suspect it was at the hands of terrorists, but the motive will forever be lost. Ahmed told me about a bomb that decimated his family’s restaurant; he said it in such a passing manner, a blip in the timeline.

Bushra and Ahmed’s choice to leave Iraq was an instinctual flee to safety. Their family was straddling the second tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy – security – which teetered at any moment. Because of his association with the U.S. Army, Ahmed and his family were able to apply for a special immigrant visa. They submitted their application with little hope of their request being granted. Four years ago, Bushra and Ahmed and their five children arrived in Spokane.

World Relief Spokane helped Bushra and Ahmed with housing, job searching, and enrolling their children in schools. To Bushra, learning a new language and customs was the hardest aspect of arriving as a refugee. She remembers feeling like she was, “Deaf at a really big party.” When picturing such a situation, I imagined feelings of confusion and helplessness, how the surrounding chatter would blend together and fade into white noise. Now, Bushra’s excellent English allows her to work and give back as a translator for World Relief. The organization is the light that continues to guide their family’s journey. When I asked Bushra about her first memories with volunteers, she and her eldest daughter, Farah, met eyes and burst into laughter. It was clear there was an inside joke that could only be understood by a mother and daughter. Bushra’s first volunteer was a woman named Lisa, who entered their apartment with fear and uncertainty. Bushra did as much as she could to calm Lisa’s nerves, which became the usual habit of offering her tea. Two women from different worlds became unlikely friends.

“Lisa is my angel,” said Bushra. “She is not a volunteer anymore, she is a friend, she is family.”

Lisa is a testament to the millions of Americans who find love in their hearts for the most vulnerable in our communities. But Bushra’s family still faces a reality that all American-Muslims experience. It’s dictated by the hijabs they wear and the God they worship.

“What do you wish people understood about Islam and the Muslim culture?”

“We’re not all terrorists!” exclaimed Farah. The quick-witted 17-year-old wrung out her long damp hair like one might do with a dishcloth. It casually slapped against the small of her back. Batool, The second-eldest sister, had recently joined us. Her demeanor was more quiet and delicate than that of her older sister. The 14-year-old’s calm expression carried the kind of wisdom you might find within an older woman.

“Someone asked me a similar question in an interview,” Farah said. “I said, I am Muslim, and I am the Muslim who has two dead uncles, and I am the Muslim whose country was destroyed by other radicalized Muslims, so it’s not like we’re all bad, you know?

I was happy to learn that Bushra’s family had yet to experience any prejudice or hostility in Spokane. Most people compliment Bushra’s beautiful hijabs and the others who give a disapproving glance tend to keep to themselves.

Throughout our conversation, I heard screeching laughter coming from the upstairs bedroom.

“He must be losing,” chuckled Farah. She was referring to her younger brother, Muhammed, who was playing videogames with his other siblings. Muhammad was a rambunctious 8-year-old boy and the apple of his father’s eye. He liked playing soccer and Fortnite like so many of the boys I knew. Muhammad’s feisty personality matched the spunk of his twin sister, Fatima. The two of them came together like night and day, sun and moon, yin and yang. Fatima took jabs at her incessant brother, who made comebacks with the same fire. Muhammad hung around 13-year-old Sulaf, the youngest of his three older sisters. Sulaf was significantly taller than Farah and Batool. All five siblings had distinct personalities; their personas were like characters in an American sit-com.

As the siblings played with one another, Bushra served me Arabic coffee, a traditional drink spiced with cardamom and sweetened with heaps of sugar. Bushra continued to bustle around the kitchen, while Farah and Sulaf unfolded the plastic table in the middle of the living room. Before I knew it, I was being served a feast of a dinner. The Dulma was piled high on a silver platter, an amount that could feed a small village. The dish consists of rice, vegetables and lamb wrapped in chard leaves and onion skins. As I finished one serving, I’d find another heaping scoop on my plate. I had to politely decline before Bushra gave me a third scooping.

When it was time for me to leave, I found it hard it hard to say goodbye. The children made sounds of longing, as if to say, “do you really have to go?” They surrounded me like a congregation as I made my way to the door. Once I left, I realized I had never asked them about their plans for the future, about their hopes and dreams in this new country. But I could see that Bushra’s family already had much of what wanted. Their dreams were rooted in each other. It would never be about a job, a house, or money; to love and to be loved was the American Dream. I drove home thinking about what Ahmed said:

“Our message to the world is, love to love.”

A Story of Grit and Hope

By Andrew Goodwin
Digital Communications Assistant

There are two words that Yanella Molinelli will never say.

“I never say ‘I can’t,” she says. “I say, I’ll try.”

Though her journey to being a United States citizen has been filled with as many ups-and-downs as a rollercoaster, Yanella continues to live out that attitude. She always tries and never quits.

Uruguay is Yanella’s home country, and she initially never thought of leaving it. Yanella and her husband, Israel, owned a local market for years in their hometown, but after a business deal went wrong they wondered if they could stay there.

“We were going to sell the store and a man said he would buy it, but then the money never came,” Yanella said.

The family’s worst fears were confirmed when their would-be buyer followed Israel home from work one night before threatening to kill him. Scared for their lives, Yanella and Israel decided to leave for a while with the hopes of returning once they would be safe. They chose to stay with a friend in Miami.

It quickly became apparent after their arrival in Miami that Yanella and her family were not going to be able to return home. They received no help from the police, and their lawyer was killed after they left.

Knowing they would be unable to return home, Yanella and Israel decided to stay in the United States. They couldn’t stay with their friend in Miami forever, however, and elected to move to Colorado to ensure their children got the best possible education.

It wasn’t easy. Yanella and Israel had no connections in Colorado. They knew little English, though their children spoke it at the time of the move. And since their lawyer had been killed, the family had almost no money from the eventual sale of the store to move with.

And through it was hard, Yanella refused to say “I can’t.”

Both Yanella and Israel found work in Colorado while their four kids graduated from school. They took whatever jobs would pay the rent and get their children through school. Their work has paid off. All four kids now have degrees and are working across the western United States.

Just over a year ago, Yanella and Israel moved to Spokane in search of work. Yanella enrolled in an employment program with World Relief Spokane that focuses on removing barriers to work and building skills.

As part of the program, a World Relief employment specialist helped place Yanella at a work-based-learning site where World Relief paid her to work for three months. The company loved her, but was not able to hire her because she did not have a GED. True to form, Yanella didn’t let that stop her and started classes to get her GED.

Soon after starting employment classes at World Relief, Yanella found out that she met the qualifications to become a United States citizen. She had been in the country for the required about of time and now speaks good English, another result of her hard work. Yanella was so excited about becoming a citizen that she chose to take World Relief’s citizenship class while also studying for her GED.

Yanella became a citizen in December and earned her GED a couple of months later. She will vote in her first American election this November.

“I am happy,” she said. “It was hard. I studied at night for my GED and for my citizenship. But now I am happy.”

Fifth graders fundraise for refugees


Creating a fundraising agenda by selling a local commodity, constructing presentations to urge donors to give money and dividing and allocating funds towards buying materials are all things that organizations do around the world. This isn’t as common, however, for a class of 5th graders.

After reading the book Refugee by Allen Gratz, Charlene Babb’s 5th-grade reading class at Sorenson Magnet School of the Arts and Humanities was inspired to go beyond just reading a book and wanted to help refugees in the area.

“I have to say that once we finished the book, we were all in tears,” said Kaya, one of Mrs. Babb’s students.

With the help of global technology developer Brinnon Mandel who was able to provide more insight into the refugee experience, the class spent a month planning the project and fundraising money so that they could create drawstring bags filled with supplies that refugees may need as they resettle in Spokane.

How did they raise such a large chunk of the money? Selling popsicles.

“We sold 281 Otter Pops just on our playground,” said Maiya.

The kids also created presentations at the Art Spirit Gallery in downtown Coeur d’Alene to urge donors to help their cause.

“I looked up refugee stories to tell and then gave information about what we were doing and what would happen if they donated,” said Vivi, one of the students who presented at the gallery.

Thanks, in part, to an anonymous donor giving the last $150, the kids raised their goal of $500 to start putting bags together.

After reaching out to World Relief Spokane to determine what kinds of items should be put in the bag, the kids quickly began to research bargains online so that they could get the best deals for their money.

“I came into class one day and they were all on Amazon trying to find where they could get the most stuff,” said Mrs. Babb.

In the end, three of the students volunteered to go to the Dollar Store together and pick out the bags’ items. Although the kids were hoping to find ten items per bag, they were so excited to find sales that would allow them to buy even more. The Dollar Store also donated the drawstring bags they could use to actually put everything in.

As the kids reached the check-out line with six heaping carts, a woman in front of them asked the students what they were doing. After they explained, the woman was inspired and donated an extra $24 to the cause.

5th Graders 2.jpg

“It felt really good to know the whole community wanted to help contribute to us,” said Amalie.

The kids created two types of bags, one for any refugee and one for families. The bags were filled to the brim with cleaning supplies and hygiene items, both of which recently-resettled refugees need greatly.

After the students filled the bags completely, World Relief Spokane’s Jackson Lino came to pick up them up and share his story about being a refugee in South Sudan.

The kids anxiously listened as Jackson explained how he came to the United States when we were just a little older than the kids in the room and how, when he was their age, he would have to walk 13 miles twice a day to provide his family with water.

The kids had several questions afterward and were able to ask about his journey, refugee camps, what American culture was like to an outsider and more.

Then, the kids excitedly loaded all of the bags into Jackson’s car.

As so often happens when we choose to serve, the students felt that they got something out of the project as well: a new perspective.

“Not everyone has what we have; we are so lucky to have parents, homes, beds, blankets and lights;” said Lola, one of the 5th graders. “Not everyone has that and that’s just how the world works.”

Mariah Reneau, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.