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. 

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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. 

Hassan: A friend, father, small business owner, and American citizen

Hassan left Iraq in October 2009, fleeing life-threatening persecution for a refugee camp in Lebanon. After almost three years in Lebanon, Hassan and his family were placed in Spokane in September, 2012.

It was a near-perfect fit.

“I didn’t feel like an outsider,” Hassan said. “The people of Spokane helped me feel welcome.”

Soon after arriving, Hassan started to make Spokane his home. He enrolled in World Relief Spokane’s match-grant program, which enables refugees to be self-sufficient within six months of their arrival in Spokane. Through Jan Greene, the program’s job developer, Hassan found work preparing and cleaning rental homes and apartments.

For as smooth as parts of it were, the transition from Iraq and Lebanon to the United States came with its fair share of challenges as well. Hassan and the rest of his family of six had to learn English, American culture, and even how to navigate the snow that Spokane sees every winter.

Hassan chuckled recalling his first winter in the snow. “We don’t have that in Iraq,” he said.

World Relief Spokane paired Hassan and his family with a family of volunteers, and while they could only do so much about the snow, the Coyle’s gave Hassan and his family a chance to learn English and have American friends.

The families quickly formed a special relationship. They often spend important moments together. Hassan and Majeda, his wife, came to the hospital to visit Bonnie after she gave birth to the Coyle’s youngest daughter. They brought gifts and smiles as the families had an impromptu baby shower in the hospital.

 

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Hassan, Majeda and their children celebrate their citizenship with the Coyle’s and Jan Greene. 

“We describe them as family. The bond we have with them is unlike any other relationship we have,” Danny said.

With the backing of his friends and former manager, Hassan started his own business in May. He hit the ground running and the small business contracts with landlords and property managers to do landscaping and preparatory work for properties all over Spokane.

 

More good news piled up from there. One of Hassan’s daughters, Nabaa, recently earned the Cooper Jones Award, given to a student at Franklin Elementary School with exemplary character.

Then, in December, Hassan and Majeda became American citizens. They took weeks of classes at World Relief Spokane and practiced their English so they could officially join the community that welcomed them five years prior.

“I’m thankful to live in this country,” Hassan said. “I’m happy here.”

Eleven Years, Seven Countries, One Home

Shah and her four children were well-hidden. Sitting inside stacks of crates with just a small hole to let in air, she hoped they would make it. The family of five was forced to sneak into their seventh country in eleven years and all they could do was pray their seventh country would be the right one.

At that moment, Shah probably didn’t even know Spokane, Washington existed. If someone had told her that her four boys would all be 4.0 students or that she would one day be an American citizen, she might have assumed they were lying, crazy, or both.

When Shah tells her family’s story, she tears up a little bit, reminded both of where she’s been, the sacrifices she’s made, and where she is now. Her son, there to translate when Shah’s English falters, smiles and fills in gaps, likely just as impressed with his mother as everyone who knows her.

“We’re thankful to be in Spokane,” Aziz says. “I love it here.”

In 2001, Shah and Aziz (who was a two-year-old at the time) fled the Taliban, crossing the mountainous border together from Afghanistan to Pakistan. They had no travel documents, but tried to make it work. Shah worked small jobs until their lives were threatened again, this time for being an Afghan in Pakistan. The small family took off, heading to China. Shah hitch-hiked across the border, just looking for a place to raise Aziz and her newborn son.

China wasn’t any more fruitful than Pakistan and small family, now four in total, was deported back to Pakistan just two months after Shah birthed her third son. They fled Pakistan once again, this time making their way to Iran, followed by Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Each time, the small family seemed to find stability before fleeing government persecution to their new, temporary home.

In Uzbekistan, Shah met a woman who offered to smuggle the family into Russia, tucked in between crates full of fruits and vegetables. Shah’s husband, who had left the family, was in Russia and she agreed, hoping the father of her children could help them.

He didn’t. Shah was forced to split a 100 square foot Moscow apartment with another Afgani refugee family. She picked up leftover food from the market to feed her kids and worked 12 hour days to enroll them in school.

Initially, Shah was denied refugee status because she was still legally married to her abusive husband. After a divorce, and with the help of an American woman at a local human rights organization, she was finally cleared to come to the United States. Shah and her four sons came here through World Relief Spokane in July of 2012.

The family’s struggles weren’t completely resolved when they came to Spokane, but for the first time they had a place to solve their problems. Their case manager enrolled the four children in school, their first stable learning environment. World Relief Spokane’s housing coordinator found them an affordable, safe home and helped the family furnish it with donations from the Spokane community. Shah enrolled in English classes and received medical services to help her overcome the toll that fleeing country after country took on her mental and physical health.

Now, five years later, the family’s situation barely resembles where they were when they came in Spokane. All four boys are 4.0 students, and Aziz is applying for scholarships with the hopes of getting a Bachelor’s degree from Gonzaga or Whitworth.  He will graduate from Mead High School in May.

Just two weeks ago, Shah became a United States citizen after taking weeks of citizenship classes at World Relief Spokane.

At the ceremony, the judge looked out at the newest Americans, smiled, and said, “you are what makes America great.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Join us in supporting refugees like Shah and her children. Become a volunteer or monthly donor.

This story was written by World Relief Spokane’s Digital Communications Assistant, Andrew Goodwin. 

An Eye-Opening Experience

When twenty-seven Gonzaga University freshmen recently filed into the World Relief Spokane office, they were laughing and chatting, trying to make friends like any other brand new college freshmen would. Although many of the students have come to Spokane from faraway places to start a defining chapter in their lives, they bore little resemblance to the refugees that we serve here.

We set out to change that.

The students were brought there by Elly Zykan, a Gonzaga senior, to participate in a refugee simulation, an event designed by World Relief to put Americans in the shoes of refugees and give them a small taste of those trials that refugees face during their vetting process and transition to living in Spokane.

Elly described an afternoon of powerful experiences. During our simulations, each participant spends time going through several key steps in the refugee resettlement process in the hopes of making refugees’ experience more real to Americans and spurring participants into action.

Participants are broken up into four families; taking on the biographies of people who resettled in Spokane. During their experience simulation participants go to four stations: United Nations interview, medical screening, language learning, and food & shelter.

For Elly, the station that drove home the refugees’ experience was the United Nations interview. Participants enter an office one at a time for a security interview with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. The rest sit outside the office in silence, unable to make sure their remembrance of events lines up. If the memories don’t, their journey to America becomes much more difficult, if not impossible. All they can do is give the most honest account of what they remember.

“I felt anxious and panicked when I realized that each one of my family members was going to have to go into the interview alone. We just had to hope that we were all saying the ‘right’ things to do well.” – Elly

The experience is familiar to refugees, who interview with the United Nations to ensure their refugee status before also doing multiple interviews with United States’ security agencies.

“I remember that the interview wasn’t easy. They were asking lots of tricky questions that were hard to answer” – Emmanuel Kassa, Former refugee and World Relief Spokane volunteer

For refugees, the interviews can come after spending weeks, months, or years simply trying to stay safe. Then, they return to the same homes or camps to await the UN decision. In the simulation, Elly and her family did the same, experiencing simulated trials that many refugees face.

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Students at the Language station learning Kazakh.

After the interviews, Elly’s family had to construct a shelter for themselves, sift through dirty rice, and attempt to learn Kazakh without any translation from English. Each station adds another layer of the refugee experience for participants until they understand, as much as an American can, the experience of their friends and neighbors.

“Our hope is that increased understanding of the refugee experience will translate into empathy and action on behalf of refugees.” – Richard Mandeville, World Relief Spokane Refugee Simulation Coordinator

“The people and places that I see on the news don’t feel so far away from home anymore. I feel like my eyes are open to these stories,” – Elly

Here at World Relief Spokane we hope that people from all walks of life will find simulations to open a window on the refugee experience like it did for Elly and her classmates. We hope that after a simulation, when people see refugees in their neighborhoods or on the news, they won’t see a statistic. Our goal is to help participants see what motivates our staff and volunteers to serve: people.

If you’d like to schedule a refugee simulation for your group, church, or workplace email Richard Mandeville at rmandeville@wr.edu. 

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