Staff Feature: Diana Borisova

It’s difficult, and sometimes impossible to understand something until we’ve done it. As much as we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, they don’t always fit. We can sense how uncomfortable they are or see that someone can use a replacement pair, but it’s tough to get someone else until we’ve worn the same pair as them.

Diana Borisova has worn the shoes of the refugees she works with every day at World Relief Spokane. It’s part of the reason she’s a great case manager.

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Diana’s family fled a war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, entering Russia as refugees. She met her husband while in the country, and discovered just days after their wedding that her husband’s family had applied to be resettled in America.

As Christians in Russia and (formerly) the Soviet Union, her husband’s family had been persecuted for years and feared for their lives and well-being. Members of the family had lost jobs and been refused services by members of the Soviet and Russian governments. Diana’s mother-in-law had nearly been removed from her parents because they were Christians.

After a series of interviews, background checks, and applications which spanned four years, the family was sent to Spokane in August 2005. Diana and her husband had recently become parents as well. So in addition to learning English, understanding American culture, and potentially finding a job, Diana was also a full-time Mom.

“I started my life in Spokane with a baby in my arms, zero English, and almost no friends,” Diana said. “I started my life here just like everyone else.”

Many of Diana’s refugees come to Spokane in similar situations. Whether it’s a single mother who needs to learn English or a individual man looking for a job to pay for rent and utilities, Diana has an anecdote for each person who comes through the door.

For a refugee who held a degree or certification in their home country but found it didn’t hold weight here, Diana can tell them about her experience having to return to school despite being a certified nurse in Russia. If a client finds they don’t understand their English classes, Diana tells them stories about her struggles in the exact same classrooms.

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“I just love them,” Diana said. “I know a little bit about how they feel.”

The stories, strange hours, and hard work are all about giving back to a community which welcomed Diana twelve years ago. Her father-in-law planted a church in Spokane that now supports refugees through Good Neighbor Teams. Diana’s first experience serving through World Relief came on those teams. She said her team worked with a Sudanese family of nine and “spoiled them a lot.”

The experience motivated her to apply at World Relief when a job opened up as a case manager last year. With nearly a year of using her experience to teach her clients the ins and outs of America, Diana’s motivation to serve has stayed the same.

“I fell in love with refugees,” Diana said. “I just want serve them.”

A father’s hard work and a family reunited

Resilient is probably the perfect word to describe most of the refugees we work with at World Relief Spokane, and few exemplify what that means better than our friend Hassan.

With a war raging in Sudan, Hassan and his family fled the country. The family traveled across Africa, moving from one country to another. They struggled through refugee camps and countries in turmoil before receiving a piece of happy news: Hassan had been approved to come to America.

So Hassan came to America in 2012 and got right to work. He knew if he worked hard then he would be able to bring his family to the United States, and all he wanted was to see them again.

“I worked so hard to be able to see my kids again,” Hassan said.IMG_6904

The transition wasn’t easy. In addition to learning the skills his new jobs would require, Hassan also had to learn English and complete the necessary paperwork to be approved to work. He would also have to learn American culture, a sometimes overlooked difficulty for almost all refugees. For his kids though, Hassan overcame the challenges.

After four years of working two jobs, Hassan’s hard work paid off. In October, his children and wife joined him in Spokane. He was overjoyed.

Now, the kids have just finished their first year in Spokane schools, one in high school and three in grade school. They saw their first snow here, and the family went sledding and engaged in some friendly snowball fights to celebrate. The education his children get here what Hassan says he appreciates the most about America.

“Schools in Spokane do a very good job,” Hassan said. “I want my kids to do well in school so they can help other people like other people helped me.”

His attitude of gratefulness for Spokane moves past the schools too. Hassan said he loves his job at URM and seemingly couldn’t stop praising the people of Spokane. Coming here, he said, has given him hope for his future and his kids’ futures as well.

“I want to say thank you to the people of Spokane,” Hassan said. “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”

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The family, now reunited, is all smiles.

Hassan and his wife are expecting a baby, their first American child, in the upcoming months. Being born in America, the child will be an American citizen. He or she will grow up without the language barriers of his or her parents nor their shared experience of coming here.

The child will, however, grow up around a family who exudes gratefulness and resiliency; two character traits which are in short supply in the world today. And that’s why we have no doubt that their future child will be a blessing to everyone they are around, just like their father.

Quiet Generosity, Big Impact

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

When we think of generosity, most of us probably envision large donations from athletes, actors, politicians, or the wealthy, usually intending to accomplish an audacious goal like curing a disease or ending world hunger.

The Coyle family sees giving through a different lens; a quieter generosity. When they think of hospitality and generosity, they see refugees.


The Coyles began volunteering with World Relief just over five years ago. The family of five, Danny and Bonnie, as well as their children, Debbie, Michael, and Hadassah, planned on becoming missionaries in India, and hoped they could mentor a Nepali or Bhutanese family; two of the many people groups we resettle in Spokane.


IMG_6635“I guess God had different plans for us,” Danny said with a laugh.

World Relief staff placed the Coyles with an Iraqi family five years ago, and the two families have since become one.

“We’ve just really enjoyed getting to know them; getting to know their culture,” Bonnie says. “We’ve loved becoming their friends.”

The two families are currently celebrating one of the Iraqi family’s daughters, who recently took home the Cooper Jones Award at her sixth grade graduation. The award was a special surprise for the families and recognizes the kindness in the girl that every parent hopes to see in their child.

The daughter’s kindness, as with most children, is likely a reflection of the character she observes in her parents. The Coyles see this in the generosity and hospitality of the multiple refugee families they now mentor. Their giving nature doesn’t make headlines, but it makes an impact.

The family tells plenty of wonderful stories about refugees’ generosity, but one stood out.

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When Bonnie gave birth to Hadassah just over three months ago, the family said they were almost overwhelmed because five families showed up at the hospital to celebrate with them.

“As we reflected on that over the next couple weeks, we saw how special it was,” Danny said. “They all brought gifts and just wanted to pour into our lives. It’s always been like that.”

Often, the Coyles will spend hours at the homes of refugee families, where the families make and serve them dinner. Days where the families spend less than a couple hours together are the exception, not the rule. Celebrations of each others triumphs, like the award and impromptu baby shower, are standard.

“I think I’m learning what it means to be hospitable through the way they’ve shown that to me,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie may be understating her family’s impact though. In their five years of volunteering with World Relief, the Coyle’s serve refugees with open hearts and big smiles. In addition to the families they mentor, Danny and Bonnie help refugee children with their homework, taught new arrivals the Spokane bus system, and even set up doctor’s appointments.

They do it for many reasons, including as a way to live their Christian faith. Debbie, Waras and Anhar

“We’re called to love those who are hurting; the least of these,” Danny said. “People are coming out of situations where they’re really desperate, which gives us an opportunity to reflect Christ’s love to them in the way we think he would want us to.”

In that way, the Coyle’s are showing off some generosity of their own. Like their refugee friends, they provide help where they can, within their unique circumstances to make a positive difference.

For them, it doesn’t seem to be about how many copper coins you have. It’s about how they and their refugee friends make them count.

For host family, a little empathy pays big dividends

At World Relief, the help of volunteers gives us the power to serve refugees who make Spokane their home. Without their help, it would be nearly impossible to serve the people to whom we are called, and we are incredibly thankful for them.

Matthew and Laura Crotty decided to volunteer with World Relief in late 2015 after being prompted by separate events which stirred empathy within them to help the most vulnerable.

For Matthew, a military veteran who spent time in the Middle East, fear-inducing statements about Islam in the 2016 presidential primary season prompted involvement. He saw a need to get involved and help those who would be hurt most by the statements. Around the same time, Laura was stirred to action by photos of children who washed up on a Turkish beach.

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“Those photos hurt me, as a mother,” Laura said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and grieving for them.”

Their empathy is part of what drove the Crotty’s to take on one of World Relief’s most unique volunteer roles: hosting refugees for their first nights in America.

The family began welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable people to Spokane in May just over a year ago. Since then, their house has been a temporary home for families and individuals during their first days or weeks in America.

The Crottys welcomed their first refugees in May 2016. They waited up until 1 a.m. to greet a family of six from Aleppo, Syria. To say they were nervous would be an understatement, but Laura described the experience as “beautiful.” The families communicated via Google Translate and body language for the weeks they were together and have since remained friends.

The Crotty’s kids, Avery, Jay, and Charlie, have been impacted by the experience too. Laura recalled an instance where one of their Syrian friends accidentally messed up one of Jay’s Lego creations. As happens with most children, Jay wasn’t pleased, but Laura found a way to put destruction in perspective. She showed Jay photos of Aleppo. An empathy-building experience to be sure.

“To be able to say to your kid ‘that’s Aleppo, that’s their city’ and see the growth that comes from that conversation is huge,” Laura said. IMG_6332

The kids gained even more than a lesson’s worth of perspective too. They’ve become friends with many of the folks who walked through the Crotty’s door in the last year. The families are still connected in mutual admiration and thankfulness. They share Thanksgiving dinners together and Laura’s mother is their American grandmother.

“It’s hard to let go,” Laura said. “You bond so much when someone is living in your home and communing with you. You really grow to love them.”

The relationships aren’t one-sided either. The Crotty’s say they’ve learned lessons about generosity and gained encouragement from seeing the Spokane community bond together to welcome refugees to the area.

“I think I’ve gained way more from this than they’ve ever gotten from me,” Matthew said.

In that way, it’s pretty amazing what a little bit of empathy can bring you.

We need you to Stand with Refugees

In America we mostly think of our participation in government in terms of voting to elect our leaders. However, voting is really just the surface of our democracy. Politicians change their minds. This is actually a sign of healthy democracy if they are changing their opinions because of learning new information and listening to the voices of the people they represent. As Americans we have the great privilege and opportunity to influence our leaders to stand for our values and guide our nation in the directions we believe are best. Regardless of whether we voted them in to office or not, every phone call or email we send to our leaders counts just the same. And I’ve seen firsthand how leaders can shift their positions when large groups of people raise their voices as one to advocate for what they believe is right. Please join us to make a phone call or two and raise your voice on behalf of the most vulnerable and voiceless – millions of refugees who our nation is poised to help if our government will but open the doors.

Mark Finney

Executive Director: World Relief Spokane

For former refugees, hard work pays off

Yesterday afternoon, “Pomp and Circumstance” played as students from Lewis and Clark High School walked out of Spokane Veterans Arena. The new alumni posed for photos with family and friends, smiled, and celebrated. Among those many students are a cadre of recent additions to the Spokane community: former refugees.

Moses and Rebecca are two students in that group, both graduating from Lewis and Clark and choosing to further their education elsewhere. Their stories are nothing short of inspiring.

Rebecca came to the United States four years ago from Rwanda by way of Malawi. She started at Lewis and Clark as a freshman four years ago where the school system was much different than her experience in East Africa.

Rebecca had to handle six longer classes instead of 12 short ones, make new friends, learn more English, and pick up on a brand new culture. In the face of all of those challenges, it would have been easy to quit. She wouldn’t.

She asked questions when she struggled in English and Math, and got more comfortable in the subjects as she grew. By the time her junior year rolled around, Rebecca said she knew, “I’ve got this.”

That determination paid off yesterday when she received her degree, and it will continue to serve her well when she continues her education at Spokane Community College next fall. Rebecca’s brother currently goes to Spokane CC, and both plan to head to four-year universities after earning their Associates degrees right here at home.

“I didn’t quit,” Rebecca said. “I’m proud to be willing to ask questions and get help.”

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Rebecca’s hard work paid off as she accepted her degree yesterday.

Moses’ story is equally heartwarming. He and his family fled from war in Congo, and came to the United States two years ago. Moses’ transition to Spokane was equally tough, but he said he’s found a home here alongside his mom, four brothers, and sister.

Just like it is for any student, the first day at a new school was probably the most difficult, but the nervousness is amplified even more when everything is changing. In contrast to a student moving from within the United States to Spokane, coming from the Congo meant Moses had to use his second-best language and acclimate to a new system of schooling.

“I was scared,” Moses said. “Everything was new back then.”

After and finding new friends and growing into the Spokane school system, Moses says he’s glad to be here. When asked if he considers Spokane to be home, there’s not even an ounce of hesitation before an enthusiastic “Yes!” rings into your eardrums. He says every teacher is his favorite one, and loves to talk about his friends.

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Moses celebrates as his determination pays off.

 

Now, the transition comes to a fitting end, with Moses and his twin brother Elijah having been handed their diplomas just a couple hours ago. He’s excited, and extremely thankful.

“I want to thank World Relief, he said. “We wouldn’t be here without them.”

Staff Feature: Brian Mwesigwa

Meet Brian Mwesigwa, Health Care Specialist, World Relief Spokane

I am from Kenya; I was born in Kenya. My dad is Ugandan and my mom is Kenyan. I grew up in Kenya and moved here when I was seventeen, almost eighteen. I went to college and graduated in 2011, then took a two-year break and later went to grad school. I studied Public Health in college. I did an internship here with the health care team and then I moved from Spokane, in 2015, to Seattle and did some contract jobs. I had an opportunity to work here, at World Relief, so I moved back in the summer of 2016.

In my job, we work with refugees, specifically when it comes to their health. Ranging from health insurance, health screenings, referrals, surgery, anything under the umbrella of health in general is what we deal with.

I think the best part of this job is just coming to work and working with clients. Some will tell you “thank you so much for what you’ve done for me,” or just a simple appreciation; it has so much weight.  It surpasses anything when someone comes and tells you “I really appreciate what you’ve done for me.” Seeing that this person’s life has been affected in a positive way because of what we have done is very humbling.

The other part of the job I like is that World Relief is a place of work where things are constantly changing, so you are always learning new things. It is never constant, and it is never dull. Today you learn one thing and tomorrow you are confronted with something else, and then you have to learn more. Learning is relative to people. The kind of learning I am referring to is not just about the job itself, but you also learn so much from the clients. They challenge you, they inspire you, and they make you appreciate the little things that you take for granted. That is what I like about this job, the constant change, and the continued process of learning.

We do so much for our clients, but sometimes because of the nature of people, not just refugees, sometimes they feel like we are not doing enough sometimes. It can be frustrating, but understandable. I think most of our clients come from environments where they have been promised a lot of things, and nothing was fulfilled. They are told, “oh tomorrow a truck will come with a bag of rice,” and nothing comes. Or people just making false promises. When they come here, they will have that mindset. They have to go through a learning process, in America everything is a learning process and a system. For example, people from where I come from, if you are sick you just walk to a hospital, and say I have a headache, and they will see you right away. You can walk to any pharmacy without prescription.

I think in America, I’ve been here long enough to understand that we have a tendency to worry about what affects us, but not about what happens in the rest of the world. It is nobody’s fault. We have this notion that America is the greatest country in the world, which it is, I love America and this is my home. I think we have not taken the initiative to open our minds to things that happen outside of our country. Refugees are people like you and me, they are smart, intelligent, and have so much wisdom. They are loving people, they have goals, and so much education.

Where I come from, I was not a refugee, but most of the things refugees have gone through, I have either gone through it or seen it. Most of the countries refugees come from, the way their government is structured, it allows you as an individual to walk the extra mile, because not everything is given to you. For example, when I was in school back home, in order to prepare for an exam the teacher only gives you 25 percent of the material and you have to work for the other 75 percent. Teachers give you notes and books, but they don’t tell you what the exam will cover and there is no study guide. There is nothing to help you prepare.

From the time kids are in fifth grade, they are already out of the house and in boarding school. When you are away from your parents, you learn to be independent, you learn to develop skills and tools that will help you be successful. I want people to know that refugees are resilient because of what they have gone through and because of the environment where they grew up. They can go through any kind of situation in life and make it through anything.

I have always wanted to work with minority groups and the most vulnerable. Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to work in either a hospital back home or places where they don’t have adequate medical facilities or providers. I grew up in an area where malaria was horrible, I have had malaria several times and I saw people dying just because they don’t have adequate transportation to the hospital. Both of my parents are trained nurses back home, but they cannot practice it here. Growing up in that environment always inspires me to go back home, not just home, but anywhere struggling. Even if that means South America or the Middle East or anywhere that experiences a kind of plight. My passion is to work for the most vulnerable and not just advocate for them, but make sure they access services. That is what inspired me to work for World Relief and that is why I am here today.