“What is snow?” Elias asked.
Volunteers at Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore were at a bit of a loss for how to explain snow to a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had spent the past 19 years growing up in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Nonetheless, a team of volunteers has wholeheartedly welcomed Elias, along with his five siblings and their parents, Germain and Salima. They were enthusiastically greeted at the airport and driven to a house lovingly prepared for them.
The family, while happy to finally be in the United States, knew that they would face challenges. The children needed to be enrolled in school, the adults registered for English classes, a new world of buses navigated, and all that in an unfamiliar language. Only 20-year-old Elias, the eldest son, spoke any English.
So, the members of Christ Lutheran Church stepped up to form a support team. Different volunteers took the family grocery shopping, collected warm winter clothing, and made sure the kids were registered for school and up to date on vaccines. To give them a home, the family was welcomed to the Rusk House. A beautiful home with a yard for running and playing, the Rusk House was donated by Carolyn and Margaret Rusk, sisters who grew up there, as a place for refugee families when they first arrive.
The Makano family, who themselves came as refugees from the DRC a couple of years ago, provided much-needed translation assistance. The Makanos were living in the Rusk House until recently when they bought their own home.
Now a few months into their lives in America, Germain, Salima and their children have been settling in. The adults are studying English at a nearby community college. The kids, from preschool through high school, have been rapidly learning in the weeks since they were enrolled.
The dedicated volunteers have been learning, too. They’ve seen another side of the public school system and found out how much paperwork is required to enroll each child. They have learned where the African grocery stores that carry cassava flour are located. Most of all they have learned about their new friends; they’ve learned that the family faced many hardships, that Germain was a teacher at a church school in Congo, that the kids love to play soccer, and that the whole family enjoys pizza.
In response to this outpouring of friendship and support for her family, Salima said, “I feel welcome here. Thank you for providing this nice house and food and new friends. We are very grateful.”
In communities across the country, volunteers like those at Christ Lutheran Church are supporting refugees and living out the long welcome. To join a team of volunteers welcoming refugees in your area, tell us a little about yourself so we can help you get involved.
Cecilia Pessoa is Digital Communications Coordinator at LIRS.