The Journey Continues
How often do we cross paths with beautiful people and never notice? I have thought about that a lot this week as I reflect on the time I spent with the Refugee Network. One day I had the pleasure, frustration, and joy to work with a boy on my right and a girl on my left, both of these sweet children, 5 years old. The young boy wanted to work on coloring, as he informed me that “in his grade there is no homework”, so I asked him what he would like to draw. “I don’t know” was his comment. Trying to be a good tutor, I suggested a horse? a field? an ocean? He looked up with big eyes and said, “What does an ocean look like?” For those of you reading this, keep in mind, we are in San Diego, California, and I would suspect, not much more than 5 miles from the ocean from where we were sitting. (New arrivals, like these children and their families, have no car, money or way to “go to the beach”.) The frustration for me increased as the little girl on my left wanted equal attention. She had the demanding task of finding the sounds in words listed on what must’ve been 15 sheets of pictures. We were thrown for a loop with the letter “J” and a picture of a Jeep. She saw it as a car and between endeavoring to outline the ocean and explain that a Jeep is a type of car, my head was spinning. I won’t bore you with the numerous opportunities that presented themselves during that hour, but it was challenging, refreshing and eye-opening regarding the tremendous need for additional volunteers to work with these beautiful children who find themselves in a strange place with a strange language and NOTHING that resembles where they were in their life’s journey a year or more ago.
I was relieved after about an hour with my young children, as the older children who I had been helping with their play last week, wanted to do more with it. After a brief review of their respective parts, one of the students/actors suggested that we needed to add to the play, a scene of what actually happened in the situation they were acting out, so that they could hear themselves replay what actually happened. What these young people brought up was that they had been only concerned about themselves and not about their friends. One of them said, “Why don’t we talk about different ways we could have resolved our differences about which movie to see”. I smiled, listening intently as these five
11 and 12-year-olds came up with a list that would have made any marriage counselor proud to hear. Needless to say, the play is developing nicely, and I am sure it will be enjoyable for the parents to see, but I believe the lessons they are learning and teaching me, will live on long after the curtain closes.
Each and every encounter with these young people continues to offer superb opportunities to grow and appreciate the resiliency of the human. These children are full of questions, excitement and a desire to be heard and appreciated, just like we are! The younger children really need one-on-one tutoring to help them better understand the concepts that they are being taught in the public schools they attend. More work on the basics…their colors, writing their letters, the sounds of the letters in the alphabet, and the difference between NO and KNOW. This experience continues to open windows into my own childhood, growing up in an ethnic neighborhood, where every adult was called aunt or uncle to show respect, and every neighbor was there for the next person when help was needed. The refugee community certainly mirrors that way of life and hopefully will result in rapid assimilation into the communities where they live and grow. This summer we are going to find a way to afford these young children the opportunity to meet the ocean.
One day this week I had the pleasure of working with a young man who is a junior in high school. He had asked me to review a paper that he had written. The paper included four poems in which he clearly had poured out his heart. The poems were full of his appreciation and love for the support and value the Refugee Network and all the tutors have provided him. This young man told me that he and his family left the refugee camp and came to San Diego nine years ago. He wants to improve his grades so that he will be accepted into the Army. He believes being in the service will help him mature and offer financial help in his getting a college education. He dreams of being a writing teacher one day. I can say that his poems are a great start in that direction.
You have read a lot about the children, truly beautiful, and a gift to this world, and I pray that we can continue to help them grow and learn in this new world we all live in. Let me also share with you a bit about the valuable volunteers. Many have supported the organization for years; others are high school students; a number of college students returning for their summer break, started with the program when they were in high school.
The four case managers for the organization are very special and gifted people. Each of them came here as refugees and made the transition and now have families of their own. They exude an understanding of the challenges encountered by new arrivals in this land. They have the language skills and cultural awareness to help the families get their feet on the ground and find the services that they need. These Beautiful People know and understand the various idiosyncrasies of the community, and those of each individual person. This week at the food bank, where twice a week the Network is able to get as much food as we can gather up and transport in one pickup truck and maybe a car, I witnessed and experienced the knowledge and passion they have to serve others at work. They know the dietary needs and likes of literally hundreds of families that rely on the fruits and vegetables that we are able to garner on their behalf. Not only were they able to work circles around me physically, and I bet I heard one or the other say 100 times, “Tom, don’t try to lift that, it’s too heavy for you by yourself”, care, concern and love for fellow human beings is constantly manifested by these fine people. I have to say that when I looked at the three pallets of food we gathered for loading into the vehicles, I thought there is no way! I must admit these amazing people loaded both vehicles like master jigsaw puzzle assemblers. I don’t believe they could have added one more string bean, and when we looked and saw that there were a few boxes of potatoes that could not make the journey back to St. Luke’s, they were devastated. They convinced the man who manages the distribution center, to set the potatoes aside to be picked up next week with the new batch of fruits and vegetables. Back at St. Luke’s, the food was separated meticulously into portions for 45 families depending upon the size of the families. The distribution of the food to the families was a period full of gratitude and appreciation. Before the day was done, these amazing case managers also delivered food to those who were unable to come to the distribution center due to health or transportation reasons. And they repeated this process for another group of refugees later in the week!
I have been blessed with the opportunity to cross paths with many beautiful people. I look forward to continuing to meet, share and work with these people, using the gifts God has gifted me. This week the Network was able to feed about 100 families and next week 100 different families will receive food. When we are able to identify a second truck, we will be able to increase the number of people we feed, and with additional tutors, we will be able to help these beautiful children that much more. Yes, “the harvest is plentiful and the labor is few”, but the people who are involved with the Refugee Network, share their gifts with these beautiful people that got their start in places that were not as open and loving as this community I am proud to be part of.