Building a New Life in a New Home

Before the Syrian civil war started, Enas was an Elementary school science teacher and her husband, Mahmoud, was a small business owner. The couple had two children and lived in Damascus Al-Ghouta.

As was the case for many Syrians, the eruption of a civil war changed almost everything they knew about their home. The war, which entered its seventh year in March, devastated the country and forced millions of Syrians, including Enas, Mahmoud, and their two children, to flee their homes.

“We almost died three times in Syria,” Enas said. “There was no food and no medicine. We had to leave.”

The family fled to Egypt. While there, Enas and her husband found whatever work they could, but it was very difficult for them. One of their children has autism, and Mahmoud has health issues that prevent him from taking certain kinds of work. They also had limited access to resources and few opportunities for their son or Mahmoud to get medical assistance. They managed to make enough money for the rent of an apartment about the size of a single office, 8-feet by 12-feet, in a dangerous neighborhood. Finding help in the country wasn’t an option. All the family could do was survive and hope for better days.

They applied for refugee status while they were in Egypt, but the wait for the American refugee vetting process seemed endless.

“America has a right to pick who comes here,” she said. “But some people really need to come here and get help.”

The good news came in May of 2016. Enas, Mahmoud, and their children were cleared to come to the United States. She still remembers the moment with palpable joy.

The start of the family’s time in America went as well as Enas could have hoped. One of the family’s case managers, Katie Carver, greeted them at the airport on June 28th, 2016, a date that Enas will remember forever. Katie took the family to live with a temporary host family while World Relief Spokane staff worked to find them affordable housing. The kindness of their hosts left an impact on the family.

“When we left, I was crying,” Enas said. “I didn’t want to leave them.”

World Relief helped them move into their new home, an apartment in north Spokane. With the exception of some small issues surrounding obtaining a recycling bin (the family wanted to be sure they could recycle in their new home), the move went smoothly and they took another step closer to having a normal life again.

Mark Finney, one of the family’s former case managers and current World Relief Spokane director, remembers the move-in well.

“From the day Enas arrived in Spokane I would describe her as hospitable and full of grace. Even when we were still moving furniture into their first apartment she was making tea and snacks for us.”

As is the case for many families that World Relief resettles, transitioning from Egypt to the United States was far from easy for Enas and Mahmoud. Heath issues exacerbated the difficulties of adjusting to life in the United States, and Enas’s son still needed extra help in school. It was also very difficult to navigate through Spokane while speaking very little English.

“Though it’s been hard for everyone, I’ve watched Enas persevere, fight for her family, grow leaps and bounds in English, learn to drive, and hold her family together despite all the huge challenges. I look forward to seeing her every time she’s in the office,” said Jami Austing, one of World Relief’s medical specialists.

When their time in the standard resettlement program was nearly up, Enas and Mahmoud joined PRIME, a World Relief program that assists refugees who need extended help.

World Relief staff also connected the family with a volunteer to help navigate the maze of the American healthcare system. Enas also exudes gratefulness for Melissa, the family’s PRIME case manager, “Melissa has done a lot for us.”

If you asked Melissa, she would say that the privilege was hers.

“Working alongside Enas and her family has been an incredible gift and privilege. Watching her continual perseverance, growth and courage through challenging times has brought me deep hope.”

When asked about her dreams for life in the United States, Enas laid out two wishes: “I want my son and husband to be healthy,” she said. “And I want to be a teacher’s assistant. I love kids.”

If you would like to make a difference in the lives of refugees like Enas, we recommend becoming a monthly donor or a volunteer.

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“This is our country”: Family from Afghanistan finds home in US

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We elected to change Abida’s name and slightly alter identifying details from her life in Afghanistan in order to protect family members that are still in the country.

When Abida* was in her home country of Afghanistan, she rose at 5 a.m. to go to work under cover of darkness. She worked as a translator for the US Embassy in Kabul, but this connection with the United States put her in a lot of danger. The Taliban were in Kabul and threatened to kill anyone who worked for either the Afghan or the US governments.

“It was dangerous,” Abida said, “you never know who is Taliban and who isn’t.”

Abida has worked to support her family since she was 14 years old. She worked at the Embassy for 13 years. It was a good job and was necessary to help her support her family.

Starting in 2005, when the Taliban came back into Kabul, Afghanistan became dangerous for Abida. She kept her job at the Embassy a secret from most people in order to stay safe from the Taliban. However, although she had training on how to stay safe in her job, some members of the community still knew she worked at the Embassy and that put her and her family in danger.

Eventually Abida and her family had to flee their home country for their own safety. They arrived in Spokane in late 2016.

“I will never forget my first day in Spokane,” Abida said, “It was very very hard.”

When she first arrived in the Spokane airport, she was picked up by World Relief staff. Since then, volunteers and friends from World Relief have come alongside her to help her and her family transition to America. They showed them anything from how to drive, to how to eat and use the bath.

“Without World Relief it would be very hard, not only for me, but for everyone who is a refugee” Abida said.

Abida and her family faced many difficulties in their transition to Spokane. Abida worked at Global Neighborhood Thrift for a while, but when she became pregnant with twins, she had to stop working. Around the same time, her husband tore his ACL and the doctors told him he should not be working a full-time job.

“For a little while we were jobless,” Abida explained, “That was very hard. But World Relief helped us with our rent.”

Since then, Abida’s husband had been able to find a job that could support his growing family.

Abida and her husband currently live in a two bedroom apartment with their five children. They have a ten year old daughter, seven year old son, four year old daughter, and six month old twins. While Abida used to fear for the safety of her children, she no longer has to worry about that.

“I’m happy they have a good future,” Abida said. “In Afghanistan we had schools, but it is better here. They will have a good future.”

At first it was very hard for Abida’s kids to transition into American schools.

“They had a very hard time at the start. They cried. My daughter had language problem so it was very hard. But now they are happy at school.”

It is also hard for Abida to be away from her family back in Afghanistan. But even through the difficulties, Abida is thankful to be here.

“We feel this is our country,” Abida said. “In other countries, like Pakistan or Iran, it is not like this. They have their own schools for refugees. But this is our country. Our kids study with American kids. We go everywhere and we are not like refugees.”

We were able to support Abida and her family because of generous donors and volunteers. If you would like to help make a difference in refugees lives, you can become a monthly donor, or sign up to volunteer.

Kara Need, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this story.

Paying it Forward

If you ever need to find Adaga, look for the beaming smile.

“I just try to stay positive,” she says. “Other people’s smiles helped me when life was hard, so I try to do the same thing for them.”

Adaga is a former refugee from Eritrea, a small African nation which officially became its own country in 1997. It has no legislative elections and one of the worst human rights records in the world. In 2006, when Adaga’s family fled the nation for fear of their safety, Eritrea was known for intimidating its population as well as suppressing and persecuting religious minorities, including members of some Christian denominations. Adaga was seven when the family had to flee, so she doesn’t remember exactly why they left, just the journey away from her extended family and into a new country.

The family fled to Ethiopia, where they applied for refugee status. In late 2008, Adaga and her father, mother, and three brothers were cleared to resettle in Spokane. They were greeted at the airport by their World Relief case manager, who was a former refugee from Eritrea as well.

“It was exciting because everything was new, but it was hard to not know much about America. We didn’t speak the language or eat the same food.”

Adaga found ways to overcome the difficulties of living in a new city over the next several years in Spokane. Her family helped. “They were always there for me. After I had hard days at school, I knew they would understand when I got home.”

“I love my family.”

One of the challenges the family of six faced together was learning English. “At first, I couldn’t really talk to anyone. I had to keep my mouth shut,” Adaga said. “It was hard.” Still, she found silver linings in those difficult moments.  “At school, everyone was so nice, even when I didn’t understand what they were saying.”

Now, as a result of her hard work and the kindness of people around her, it’s nearly impossible to tell that Adaga wasn’t born in Spokane. Her English is nearly perfect. True to form, she credited her teachers and family for that success.

When her time in the public school system came to an end, Adaga started looking for a job so she could contribute to her family and community’s success. Her mother suggested that she go back to World Relief Spokane.

Employment Specialist Brian Olson helped Adaga search for a job. It took a couple of weeks to find the right fit, but they kept at it.

“Brian was awesome,” Adaga said. “He helped me with everything.”

The pair found a job at a senior care community in Spokane where Adaga now has the opportunity to give back to the community that welcomed her eight years ago. She works the night shift and completed a 75-hour training that took about three weeks. “Working at night was kind of hard at first, but I got used to it. I like it now. I get to work and help other people.”

Want to be the difference in a refugee’s life? Become a monthly donor or volunteer. 

Andrew Goodwin, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Assistant, wrote this story.  

 

 

Spokane Gives “Second Life” after 22 Years in a Refugee Camp

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Every now and then, life gives us a second chance to restart our lives. This can look different for many people; graduating college, moving to a new city, starting a job, or entering into a relationship. For Dil Khadka, he received his “second life” when he moved to Spokane.

Dil spent 22 years in a refugee camp in Nepal after fleeing from Bhutan at the age of 8. He was located at one of the many Bhutanese refugee camps that were established in the early 90’s. This is where he grew up and met his wife. Dil finally arrived in America in June of 2010 with only $22 between him and his wife.  

Having a brother in Spokane made this a perfect place for him to raise his family. After arriving in America, Dil and his wife had two little girls, now six and four years old.  

Life In Spokane

At first, Dil wanted to go to college in order to get a degree in computer technology, but soon after having his first daughter in 2012, he realized that it would be wise for him to learn a practical trade in order to pay the bills. He decided to go to beauty school in Spokane in order to turn a hobby into a career.

At the International Beauty Education Center, School Director, Kathy Nguyen, spoke well of Dil. “Dil always worked really hard and was an eager learner. He not only came to school but was also working part-time in order to support his family.” She continued, “We get many refugees who come through our school. Regardless of their nationality, their success comes down to their passion and commitment to their education. Dil was just as passionate and committed as the rest of them.”

Dil graduated from IBEC in September 2017 and was officially licensed as a cosmetologist with his own business in January 2018. While his business continues to grow, Dil is working at Winco on the night crew in order to support his family. His hard work stems from his commitment to being a good husband, father, and citizen of Spokane.

“Spokane has given me a second life,” Dil proclaimed. “When I first came to Spokane, I was so grateful for the opportunity to be here, away from the camp, but I didn’t have anything to give back to the community. I want to give back to the city that gave me this second life.”

Giving Back

“I don’t have much money, but I have a skill that I can use to give back. I want to help refugees, like me, who come to America and don’t have much money for small things, like a haircut. It is hard engaging with the community as a refugee. Most refugees are going through culture shock and don’t speak English. I have come through that. I have felt the same things, that is why I want to give back to this community.”

Dil is committed to providing refugees, veterans, homeless, and those struggling with free services. In part, because he is a family man himself, Dil has a passion to help families and those struggling to support themselves.

“I want to provide newly arrived refugees and those struggling with free services at my shop,” Dil said. “Most refugees don’t know the terms that we use here in America and need someone to be extra patient with them.”

Having been in a refugee camp for 22 years and moving to America with little English, Dil is able to empathize with the rest of the refugee community in Spokane. Since he has been in their situation, he is able to be more patient with them and think of creative ways to help them communicate. He said, “We may not be from the same place before we came to America, but we have a lot of the same experiences. I think this helps me engage with other refugees.”

Outside of the free services, Dil says his prices are affordable for all families. His shop, All Eyes on Me Beauty & Spa, offers haircuts at $7.99 for kids and $9.99 for adults. He also offers a variety of other services which he posts on his Facebook page, All Eyes on Me Beauty & Spa.

Currently, his shop is located inside Wrightway Beauty Supply (2103 N Division St.) in Spokane, but he has hopes of moving into his own building as soon as possible. Considering Dil’s passion and work ethic, that shouldn’t be too far away.

Zak Sommers, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this blog post. 

DACA Recipient Overcomes Fear And Speaks Out

 

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There are roughly 18,000 students in Washington, and 800,000 nationwide, that are protected by DACA. Each living individual lives with a unique story; a story filled with fear, hope, and a personal drive to make the most out of their lives in America. Catalina (Cat) Corvalan, 20, a sophomore at Whitworth University, is just one of the students who has decided to stand up and advocate on behalf of these Dreamers.

From Chile to America

Cat was born in Chile and attended school there until 3rd grade. She, her brother, and her parents moved to America when she was 10 years old. In the years directly before moving to America, her family was hit with turmoil. Cat’s father lost his job and her grandfather, who contributed heavily to the family finances, passed away, leaving behind extensive medical bills.

In order to pay the bills, Cat’s father spent night and day working a low-income job and her mother also looked for as much work as possible. Cat’s parents wanted to come to America and applied for a family visa in 2003, hoping to give their children a better future. Years went by, the visa process had not hastened, and Catalina’s family began to desperately struggle.

During this time, according to the National Institute of Statistics, Chile’s unemployment rate was rising to nearly 12%, a percentage that America has never hit. With the visa process showing no progress, Cat’s parents chose to immigrate to America in order to find work and hopefully expedite the visa paperwork while in the country. If her family stayed in Chile, they would have been evicted from their home and forced to live on the streets; Cat and her brother would have had little hope for a good education and future.

Cat’s grandmother and aunt, who are American citizens living in the Seattle area, were here to meet them and welcome them into the country. “I think I would have made the same decision as my parents,” Cat said. “They sacrificed a lot to come to America. It wasn’t an easy decision.”

At first, when Cat’s family moved to America, she thought it was a simple vacation to visit her grandmother and aunt. It wasn’t until a few years later that Cat discovered the truth about her undocumented status. “I learned about my undocumented status in 8th grade when I started looking at colleges in order to pursue a medical degree. I never imagined that a person could become illegal.

The Hope of DACA

The same year Cat discovered she was undocumented was the year President Obama enacted DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program). Cat wasted no time. After receiving DACA approval while in high school, she took advantage of as many my opportunities she could. During her junior and senior year in high school, she worked as an intern at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center.

“I wanted to go into the medical field in order to change things I didn’t like. Growing up as an undocumented immigrant, there was little to no medical help available to us, especially for my parents,” Cat explained. “When we had to go to the hospital, I hated seeing my parents stress about all the hoops they had to jump through, due to a lack of insurance, and their looming fear of medical debt. I want to give more opportunities for health care to the undocumented community.”  

Entering into college, Cat received the prestigious Act Six Leadership Scholarship, which provides her with a full-ride at Whitworth University to pursue a career in the medical field. “Whitworth has been an encouraging and safe place for me to speak up and join groups that are advocating for undocumented students.”

“I’m lucky to live in Washington where there are so many resources available for young students in my position–The Washington Dream Act and the Real Hope Act provide undocumented students with financial aid for higher education. So many other students in other states do not have the support our state gives us.”

The Potential End Of Protected Status

On September 5th of last year, the Trump administration announced it was ending the DACA program. In response to this announcement, Cat, and Dreamers all around the country, took the initiative to begin advocating for citizenship to a greater extent than they had before. If the DACA program would be shut down, many Dreamers would be faced with the potential of deportation; the threat of being forced away from what they have known as home for the majority of their lives.

“If I went back to Chile, I wouldn’t even know where to start.” Cat has now lived in America longer than she had lived in Chile. “I’m learning so much about the US healthcare system and it would be a shame if I wasn’t able to apply that knowledge to a career here in the US.”

Although, Cat explains, “DACA wasn’t perfect from the beginning. Although yes, DACA was a pathway to the future for many, it was just a band-aid. When all of these immigration debates began recently, the advocacy groups started to see it as an opportunity to push for a permanent solution–we can’t live off of two-year permits for the rest of our lives. In the end, we want a clearer path to citizenship.”

In regards to the more recent failure of the government to pass the proposed immigration bills, Cat expresses, “In my own views, it was a good thing that these bills didn’t pass. A lot of these bills didn’t cover our community as well as they should have in the first place. We want to pass something that will benefit the entire community.”

Cat, while being a full-time college student, also leads the Spokane Dream Project and has gotten the opportunity to speak in many public forums, including the recent Women’s March in January, advocating for a clearer path to citizenship.

One Person At A Time

“When I recognized that I had the power to change people’s minds about undocumented students by telling my story, it overpowered my fear of advocacy. There were several years where advocacy was not an option for me. My parents have always cautioned against it. Even now, my parents are weary, but I think advocacy is very much needed now more than ever.”

Cat admits, “I’d rather speak with groups who have questions, or are even against undocumented students, than just speak in an echo chamber. I prefer more personal conversations over a podium. That’s where I think people can reflect and evaluate their positions. Speeches are great for advocacy and awareness, but the real change is done face-to-face.

Personal Reconciliation

When asked about the support that she has seen from the Christian community in Spokane, Cat expressed, “It’s disheartening to hear that Evangelicals are some of the most adamantly opposed to immigration and social issues. But in Spokane, I’ve found great support groups from churches where the pastors are looking at the Bible and realizing the call to support those in need, then actually choosing to stand alongside us in advocacy. I’ve had the privilege of finding myself in supportive groups surrounded by people of faith who have helped me heal and reconcile Christian values with advocacy.”

What’s preached at the church, shouldn’t stay inside the church; it should go out into the community. It’s tough to see people who listen and understand our struggles, but choose to stand on the sidelines.”

World Relief stands with Catalina and the other Dreamers around the country because as Christians we are called to stand with those who are hurting. We support their path to citizenship because we believe Dreamers add tremendous value to our country. If you would like to learn more about this issue and support Catalina’s work with the Spokane Dream Project, you can sign up for updates at https://tinyurl.com/SpokaneDreamProject.

Zak Sommers, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Intern, wrote this blog post. 

Rejoicing in the Lord

Pastor Daniel Nyluak (pronounced: nied-lock) smiles as he greets members of his congregation before church. Wearing a bright pink and white shirt, he greets visitors and church members with the same gregarious nature and listening ear.  

As the service begins by sharing testimonies, Daniel flashes another grin as the members of his church, Living Sacrifice Christian Ministry, praise God for little blessings like having Sunday’s off from work and big ones like safety in a car accident.

Gratefulness for God’s provision is not scarce at Living Sacrifice, in part because its pastor is so familiar with His gifts.

In 2002, just after Daniel married his wife, rebels in the Congo forced him to flee to a refugee camp in Uganda. Daniel left behind his wife and home when he heard rebel groups were hunting down doctors.

Daniel’s destination was a refugee camp in Uganda, but he only intended to stay for a short time. In 2005, he nearly returned to the Congo in spite of the danger. “I thought, ‘I can’t be here. I am a doctor. I had money, and now we’re living like animals in the refugee camp,”  Daniel said, “I was going to go to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) and tell them I need to go home.”

God intervened. When Daniel was praying, the Holy Spirit told him that he would be coming to America. “It was a miracle,” he said.

A second miracle followed. Daniel’s wife, Anile, searched for and found him in Uganda in 2007. “I saw that God had a plan for me, so I stayed in the refugee camp,” Daniel said. They started their first refugee church together two years later.3

In 2014, Daniel received word that his family would be going to America. God was faithful. He provided

World Relief staff helped Daniel and his wife find work, enrolled them in English classes, paired them with volunteers and connected the family with members of the Congolese community in Spokane. But there was one thing missing: an African church.

Daniel started a prayer group with local refugees six months into his time in Spokane, but the group needed a building where they could fully praise and worship. Several local pastors, including Joe Wittwer of Life Center and Bobby Moore of River City Church, came alongside Daniel and his prayer group. When River City offered the use of their building for church services on Sunday evenings, Daniel was overjoyed. God had provided once again.

The services at Living Sacrifice reflect gratefulness for God’s gifts. The African believers share stories of God’s protection and provision and thank him in prayer and praise. Soon after, the floor is shaking beneath church-goers’ feet as the entire congregation dances and worships their refuge and sustainer.

Each member of the church still has difficulties. All are transitioning to a new language, country, and culture, and all were forced to flee their counties fearing for their lives. Many, like Daniel, left good jobs, money, and family behind. But for three hours on Sunday afternoon the believers come together to praise God for all they have received.

Daniel fell to his knees during worship, perhaps overwhelmed with God’s provision. He is no longer a wealthy doctor, but he has a new call and it comes with different gifts. And with each new testimony and every praise sung to God, Daniel’s smile seems to get a little bigger.

Want to befriend refugees like Daniel and Anile? Learn more about volunteering with World Relief Spokane at worldreliefspokane.org/volunteer. 

Andrew Goodwin, World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Assistant, wrote this blog post. 

The Bond of Sisterhood

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.

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Solange outside of her new home.

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.