Just as Elizabeth took in her unexpectedly pregnant cousin Mary, World Relief Spokane knows that women are uniquely capable of helping other women in need. That’s the idea behind our Women Who Stand program, which recognizes that refugee women are especially vulnerable. They face the same challenges in moving to Spokane as their male counterparts while serving in the double role of breadwinner and caregiver. They often have to overcome the trauma of sexual and domestic violence, which they experience at staggering rates when they flee from home or live in refugee camps.
By surrounding women refugees with supportive American women, World Relief converts vulnerability to self-sufficiency. Take the sister-like bond shared by Maren Longhurst and Solange, who were matched by the program. Maren is a local architect who led a team of women from her church in volunteering to come alongside Solange, a refugee from Congo and mother of 3-year-old Benta,
“I loved them immediately,” Maren says of meeting mother and daughter. “We had a connection like we were meeting sisters.” Their instant bond, the cornerstone of Women Who Stand, sustained Solange as she faced the greatest challenge of her new American life.
A Long Housing Search
Soon after Solange was matched with Maren’s team, her roommate moved out, leaving her unable to meet the rent. Solange found herself caught between Spokane’s airtight rental market and homelessness. Maren’s team led a months-long housing search, made difficult by Solange’s lack of work or credit history.
“Usually by the time we even walked out the door after looking at an apartment it was already under contract with someone else,” said Maren. Solange resorted to sleeping with her daughter on friends’ couches. Maren looked into every form of rental assistance she could find. The easiest way for Solange to qualify was to spend a night in a homeless shelter.
No stranger to struggle, Solange had grown up in a refugee camp from the age of 7. But she was uncomfortable with the idea. She had to bring Benta with her, and she didn’t want to be seen as homeless.
Maren, who found World Relief Spokane while she was doing research for a master’s degree capstone project designing transitional refugee housing, took it hard.
“I cried for three days before that day came,” Maren said.
A Long Winter
Maren gathered her Women Who Stand team while doing research for her capstone project. She attended a worldwide conference for women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and heeded the call of one speaker to serve refugees close to home. She found World Relief Spokane online, and put out a call on Facebook to the women of her church.
Kim Clark, Lori Konshuck, Carrie Tolley and Maren began meeting with Solange in winter, so they first brought warm coats and boots. Then they cooked for each other. Soon, they enjoyed just hanging out together. Solange took to calling the other women “sweetie” after hearing Lori use the term with her husband.
“We commiserated through the long winter [of 2016-17],” Maren said.
A Long-Awaited Home
The bond supported Solange through her night at the shelter, which she found to be a clean place with private rooms and a caring staff. Maren picked Solange up the next morning. The experience was better than she had expected, and it qualified her for assistance from Catholic Charities to pay for the deposit on the apartment. Solange’s church, Central Seventh Day Adventist, kicked in some more.
With financial assistance in hand, Solange soon found a house of her own where she could raise her daughter independently. She invited the women for dinner.
“I could sense her joy in being able to serve us a meal in her own home,” Maren said.
The women continue to help Solange become self-sufficient. With the help of Carrie, Solange began working as a daycare attendant. She works 5 minutes from her house and can bring Benta with her. She has been attending ESL classes between her shifts and is eyeing a nursing certificate course.
“We’re all mothers,” Maren said, explaining her team’s call to support Solange. “We were all able to put ourselves in her shoes.”
Ben Shedlock, a World Relief Spokane volunteer, wrote this post.
If you would like to stand with the vulnerable by befriending a refugee or family, fill out a volunteer application at worldreliefspokane.org/volunteer.