Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blessings in Upheaval

Sarah currently ministers with refugees with Catholic Charities Atlanta.

If you ever need to re-affirm your faith in humanity, stop by the Refugee Resettlement Office for Catholic Charities Atlanta.

When you walk in the door, it will likely be chaotic. In my office, people will be funneling in and out all day. Families from places like Afghanistan, Bhutan, Congo, Burma and Iraq will be talking to case managers, like myself, who are helping them become self sufficient. You will see every age group, and overhear dozens of languages. Many will want to practice their English and resettlement staff will be talking with them slowly. You will see people who are there because of war, persecution or natural disaster. 
Sarah's coworkers gather for a photo: Myint from Burma is a translator, Subba from Bhutan is resettlement manager, Frances from USA is Senior Director of Refugee Resettlement, and Sarah on the far right
Of the world's 50 million displaced persons, the refugees in this resettlement office are part of the .5 percent that have been invited by the U.S. government to rebuild their lives in the United States. Many have gone through years of waiting in camps or cities before being given permission to resettle in Atlanta, Georgia. There is a clear relationship between the refugee problem and the issue of human rights. Violations of human rights are not only among the major causes of mass exoduses, but also rule out the option of voluntary repatriation for as long as they persist. Violations of rights of minorities and ethnic conflicts are increasingly at the source of both mass exoduses and internal displacements. Respect for human rights is a necessary condition for both preventing and resolving today's refugee flows. In the words of previous United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, "the refugee issue must be put to all governments and peoples as a test of their commitment to human rights".

The Reception and Placement (R&P) Grant, is given by the State Department to various resettlement agencies, like Catholic Charities Atlanta, according to the number of refugees for which they are responsible during the given time period. In return for the grant, which is supplemented by private donations and other in-kind contributions, the resettlement agencies are expected to provide the following services to refugees approved for resettlement: 

  • sponsorship; 
  • pre-arrival resettlement planning (including placement); 
  • reception upon arrival; 
  • basic needs support for at least 30 days, including housing, furnishings, food, and clothing;
  • community orientation;
  • referral to social service providers (including health care, employment, etc.); 
  • and case management and tracking for 90-180 days. 
As a case manager I do all of the things listed above with each refugee case assigned to me. 

Sarah and Ashley, a current Dominican Volunteer, sort through clothes donations for incoming families.
One of my favorite parts of my job is reception upon arrival which includes airport reception. In August, I received my first case and made all the arrangements for them before I went to the airport to greet them. It was obviously a very exciting moment for me as a new case manager but significantly more exhilarating for the family members I was waiting with. Two adorable children and their parents anxiously stood next to me as we watched people from around the world come up the escalator at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As we waited I was told by the children’s mother that her parents, my clients, last saw her little girl when she was one year old and that they hadn’t yet met her four month old baby boy. I knew it was going to be an extremely emotional reunion and I was not wrong! It was a moving moment to witness. I had tears well up in my eyes because everyone was crying and embracing their loved ones. The daughter ran up to her mother with her little girl and my clients just broke down in tears. When they finally saw their four month old grandson they cried harder and could not stop holding his face in their hands. They spoke rapidly in Arabic so I did not understand what was said but I could just imagine my clients saying, “my grandson is so precious and beautiful”. 

Moments like my first airport reception are a privilege to witness. I am so blessed to work as a case manager for Catholic Charities Atlanta as a Dominican Volunteer. The successes are there but so are the challenges. The longer you stay in my office, the more you will hear in the voices of the refugees that they are truly thankful but also scared and far from home. They are part of a resettlement program that makes a real difference but would be better with more funding and support. 

There is so much wrong in our world today. There have never been this many simultaneous conflicts or so many reasons for people to seek refuge away from home. There are more refugees since World War II and the number is only growing. Soon, Catholic Charities Atlanta may have Syrians in our office's waiting room. As I watch the news and see millions uprooted, I wonder which few I will work with in the coming year, and what will happen to the rest.

In a time where the world continues to be wrought with nonstop upheaval, there are not many moments to stop and give thanks. It is something though, to be with people directly affected by these issues. They have lost loved ones -- mostly to preventable conflicts or turmoil -- and will still find ways to see what is good. They are kind and resilient. They try again and again.

I challenge all of you who took the time to read this blog post to start learning about refugees. Or go bigger: support your local resettlement office throughout the year. You will never be prouder to be part of a country that has a history of offering refuge. You will never feel more human. And I promise, you will never feel more thankful.

The following are the external links from Sarah's post, as well as a few more resources for you:

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