Two feet of service: Reflection 3

I think a lot of times, we as people do “helpful” things for the wrong reasons. We want recognition and to be appreciated and we get upset when we don’t get those things because we feel that our efforts are ill placed. When Travis Profitt came in to speak about social justice, he said something very interesting, that we didn’t need charity in the world, we only needed social justice then he went on to talk about the difference between the two and what his life work is and I feel like the befriending program sort of ties into this idea in that in the beginning, a lot of us probably went in thinking we were doing some sort of grand service to the refugees which would be considered charity and don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to diminish what we did or the befriending program because it’s an amazing thing, but I think, and I can only speak for myself, that towards the end, we moved over to social justice.
Watching movies like The Lost Boys of Sudan or Welcome To Shelbyville, we all had so many complaints about how Americans were treating the refugees. We all were so critical about how patronizing the people were or how little the refugees were actually able to fit in with an American group of friends and we can say that because we’ve now had much more experience with refugees than they had which is why I find the befriending program to be so useful, not just for the refugee but for the befriender itself. We left the charity side of it behind and started really thinking about things. Why do people treat refugees so differently? Why are they sometimes ostracized? Why is there a negative connotation to the term refugee? We all have so many questions, which push us towards social justice. Travis also talked about the two feet of service, one being more rooted in action which I would say is what befriending was and one being more about advocacy- getting out there, speaking for those who can’t, finding funds to help, things like that.
While the befriending program is more of a service based program, I believe a few times, as the trust between me, my partner, and Salma grew, that we had to be advocates for her. At one point, she was going to school for ESL and had to take two buses to get there and back. With the government shutdown, all of her aid slowed down so she was unable to get her bus pass and in turn unable to go to school. Even though my partner and I didn’t have an answer or a solution for her, we took it directly to Patrick and Patrick went to a case manager. In another instance, she had gotten a bill in the mail that was already late and had now doubled in cost and she asked us for help because she didn’t even know what it was. We ended up taking her to a currency exchange and showing her how to pay the bill and once again brought it to the attention of Patrick who told her caseworker.
A lot of times I try and put myself in a refugee’s shoes. I think about what it would be like to have to flee your home and come to a place where nobody knows you, you don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture and of course, I will not ever be able to completely fathom how scary and confusing that must be but the closest thing I can compare it to is my awful encounter at a German airport. I was on a lay over on my way to Egypt and I had to get to my next flight at a certain time so I was taking my time because I knew I had some time. Eventually, I see that I have about 30 minutes to get over to my gate so I’m trying to find it and I can’t find it anywhere. I’m walking all over and I was just getting more and more confused. I asked four people, one person who didn’t understand me because I don’t speak German, two who completely went off on me in German, and the last one who I didn’t even ask for help. I guess she saw the panic in my eyes as I was searching so she reached out to me and asked if I needed some help. This is probably at least a little similar to what refugees experience. Many people don’t understand them, many people are cruel and don’t want to have anything to do with them and then there’s those few people who reach out and lend a helping hand. A quote in Save Haven that I really liked said “the experience of loss and flight that lies at the heart of the refugee experience has lingering effects on a refugee, but life in a new country has it’s own requirements.” (Haines, 170)
That is a huge lesson I learned this semester- just the affect it can have to reach out to someone who is in such a vulnerable position and let them know you are there for them. I also learned the importance of friendship. I think we all take that for granted because we probably all have friends but it really is such a powerful thing. Another quote in Safe Haven talked about the value of family- “the individual is embedded in a web of many social relationships but the most crucial part of that web is what we generally call “the family.” (Haines, 113) Whether that be immediate family, which are mostly all in Iraq for her or the little “family” she’s sort of created with the people down the hall, there is something to be said for just having someone there. With Salma, most of the time, we just sat quietly and drank tea but she was always so sad to see us go. Of course we did fun things like take her out for pizza and I think the most fun was when we took her to the Shedd Aquarium. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her smile so much and from then on she called us “habibti” which means my love in Arabic. It was amazing to see how much she appreciated the littlest things we did for her.
It is a rare treat when you do something for someone else that ends up benefiting you more than it has benefited him or her. I believe this is the case for this class and meeting with my refugee. At the beginning of the semester, I had so many reservations and I was so nervous but aside from that, I went into this with the mindset of wanting to help someone else and thinking of ways that I could be of service to whichever refugee I was assigned. It’s now at the end of the semester and I feel very grateful to have gained so much more than just that. I truly feel that I made a connection with Salma and although a few times it was frustrating that I couldn’t be of more help, I finally had to realize that if all I had to offer her was a friendly face she could see every Saturday and if all we did was sit quietly and drink tea, then that was okay.

Getting to know you: Reflection 2

“Just as it was possible to dial for an emergency, they argued, so it should be possible to dial a friend. A sympathetic listener could be as much of a life saver as a fire- or police- officer.” (Behnia, 2) This statement, in my opinion, is a good summation of what befriending is and the role it can play in the well being and adjustment of a refugee.
In my first reflection paper, I spoke about my concerns and anxiety about meeting my refugee. I was worried that we wouldn’t get along or there would be cultural barriers. I didn’t know if I would be able to help or make any difference. Now that I’ve gotten closer to my refugee and the awkwardness has somewhat gone away, I would say we’ve developed a mutually beneficial relationship. By that, I mean that we both have gained something by this experience. My refugee is a 72 year-old Iraqi woman who speaks no English. She lives in a studio apartment in Rogers Park all by herself. We haven’t yet gotten the underlying story of why she came to America, but I found it truly inspiring that even with what little she has, she is always willing to offer it to me and my partner. She always lays out for us an array of cookies and gives us soda and tea. Although she doesn’t speak very much, I feel that she just likes having someone to sit with her on Saturdays or Sundays and watch tv with.
In Mary Pipher’s book, she spoke about the different characteristics about a refugee that would make it harder for them to adjust and being older was one of them. I definitely believe this to be true is Hlaiwah’s case. She’s older, lives all by herself, doesn’t work, and doesn’t speak any English. We also spoke about this in class and that the risk of a refugee being isolated and developing depression is much higher for an older person. I also believe Salma is more at risk because she has no family here. In order for people to survive, especially in such a difficult situation, they need a support system. In Salma’s case, she has two sons who live here and have lived here for about 4 years. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t know, they don’t really speak to her and have not been much help at all in helping her adjust to live in America. She showed me one day that she had their addresses written down and asked me how far they were away from where we were right now. She didn’t say much else about it but I could see that it was a touchy subject.
Mary Pipher talks a bit on the subject of support systems and she stresses the fact that in order to strive and get through these situations, the families must work and stick together. In one chapter, she gives a demonstration involving sticks. She sets out a number of small sticks on a table and first, she has one of the family members pick up one of the sticks and try to break it. The stick is of course easily broken. After that, however, she gathers all the sticks together and bundles them together. She again asks them to try and break them. The fact that this task is impossible proves to the family that “a bundle of sticks cannot be broken” which, relating back to family means that if a family sticks together, they cannot be broken, whereas people by themselves are much more vulnerable.
While Salma doesn’t have that support system physically with her, as far as her two sons who live here, she does speak with her sisters back home very often. She texts them and gets phone cards so that they can keep in touch. For this reason, I think that the befriending program is especially helpful for her. In the beginning, she was very reluctant to ask our help with anything but as time has gone on, she has learned to trust us more. Just the other day, she asked us how to work the little machine that tests her blood sugar. She also expressed to us how upset she was that she hadn’t been able to go to her English classes in a week because it took two buses to get there and her 30-day bus pass had run out.
As I stated before, Salma is not much of a talker. I’m not sure if that’s just her personality or if she is still trying to feel us out, but one thing that she was very enthusiastic about was her schoolwork. She pulled out a whole folder with all the English homework and tests she had been working on and she very proudly told us the good grades she had gotten on her previous exams. Mary Pipher describes schools as being “therapeutic environments” and claims that “teachers may not deal with trauma directly, but they are part of the healing process. They give their students order and predictability. After the chaos and confusion of their lives, nothing is more comforting than routines.” (Pipher, 115) I think this is a very accurate statement, especially when it comes to Salma. She would always tell us about how everyday, she would wake up, and take the 21 and 82 bus to get to her class, and then she would come home and study all that she had learned that day.
As I’ve spent more and more time with Salma and I’ve gotten more experience in the whole idea of befriending, I can definitely attest to its importance. Not only does It provide the refugee with a friend, it provides them with a teacher and a “cultural broker.” It also has been very beneficial for me. In the beginning of the class, we were told that this would be very rewarding but also could be quite frustrating because it would make us fully aware of our limitations. This has proven to be painstakingly true for me. Every little problem she had, I felt like I wanted to just rush in and help her and of course, there were some things that I could do to help her but there were also a lot of her problems that I was unable to help which was very annoying. But luckily, just the act of befriending has seemed to be enough. She didn’t expect any more or any less. Going forward, I am very excited to build an even stronger friendship with Salma.

First Encounters: Reflection #1

I’m not really sure how I felt about this course. I guess I have mixed feelings about this class and the refugee resettlement service itself. I believe that is a great service and I commend the Christian foundation and our country in general for being the omost generous with the refugees as far as whom they do or don’t let in but I’m also nervous about what role I will be playing in that. One thing that I have trouble with is that I am very introverted. I’ve always been the type of person who would avoid an awkward situation at all costs or refrain from putting myself in a position where I had to put myself out there; especially if I had to be around someone I don’t know. That is actually part of the reason I took this class. Even though it’s a little bit nerveracking, I think it is helpful for everyone to do things outside their comfort zone especially when the good in the outcome will outweigh any awkward or uncomfortable feelings. I think as an adult and someone who is still learning and growing, this is just something I have to get past. When I first decided to take this class, I was under the impression that refugees would come to class and we would all talk with them together, as a group. I was a little overwhelmed when I later learned that myself and a partner would be assigned to our own family, which we would then have to spend 3 or more hours a week with. My first thought was that it was going to be so awkward and we would have nothing to say to each other. There might be a language barrier that we couldn’t get past or I might accidentally say something that would make them uncomfortable or bring up something in their past that they weren’t ready to talk about yet. My second thought however was that it would be awesome. Even though I couldn’t possibly imagine what they’ve gone through, I’d be able to see things from their perspective. I would say that I group up pretty privileged. I was given everything I needed and a lot of what I wanted and the result of that is that I probably don’t appreciate things as much as I should and I take for granted many things that some people, especially a refugee would not have. Maybe hearing their stories and helping them with whatever they need, will help me to appreciate my life and the opportunities I have. While I am apprehensive, I am also very, very excited. I am very touched and whole-heartedly support the foundation’s cause to help refugees begin a new life here. I come from an Egyptian family and Egypt has been getting increasingly worse. All the rioting and violence has seriously impeded many of my family member’s lives so even though there haven’t been many cases of Egyptian refugees, I have still, from my family’s perspective, gotten a tiny glimpse of what the refugees that are part of this program may have gone through that would push them to leave everything they know and love. I sympathize with all the people who have had no other choice than to flee from their home country and I feel very lucky to be able to take any part in helping them adjust to their home away from home.

Reflection 1: A Nervous Start

Aminah Walton

ANTH 301: Refugee Resettlement

First Reflection Fall 2013

            Heading into our first class last Tuesday, I was not sure what to expect from this course. I was familiar with the topic of refugee resettlement from previous courses. My slight interest and its engaged learning value, compelled me to register for the course. Since having our first class, I have been feeling slightly scared to embark on this service journey but I am up for the challenge.

            I am scared because I continuously struggle with communicating with others. Sometimes it is very difficult for me to be sociable and this can often mislead others to believing that I am aloof. I can only imagine how more difficult this can become factoring in language and cultural barriers. Knowing how significant first impressions are to fostering an open and friendly atmosphere, I am anxious for my communication with my chosen refugee family to be perfect. I know that perfect communication may not be completely achievable, but I do look forward to these opportunities to enhance my communication skills.

            I am anxious about confronting the emotional aspect of working with refugee families. I have seen and read countless interviews and stories sharing the rough experiences of refugees; but to potentially hear these accounts directly is rather daunting. I know that this will be a humbling experience but I am nervous of how I would react to hearing their story.

            As you can see, this refugee resettlement service will be a difficult journey for me; but overall I am willing to accept the challenges it will cause me to face. I do not take this opportunity lightly and know that this will be a great chance for me to gain personal growth.

Reflection 2: Slowly Coming Together

Aminah Walton

ANTH 301: Refugee Resettlement

Second Reflection Fall 2013

            These past few weeks have truly been remarkable. My partner and I have been spending Saturday evenings with a Congolese refugee family filled with vigor and laughter. My initial reservations and anxieties have quickly dissipated thanks to an amazing family rich with warmth, our class readings, and discussions.

            The matriarch of the family is a woman of her late thirties with a smile and laugh that instantly warms the atmosphere. The exact whereabouts of her husband are unknown. She has three daughters, one son, a son-in-law who found work in Iowa, and three granddaughters. The first meeting went well and our family was very open from the start. I had some difficulties locating their residence; but when I finally arrived, it was comforting to see my partner already holding the two month old granddaughter.

            Despite the language barrier, the majority of the time was successfully spent getting to know each other. We learned a lot about the family and even learned details about their journey from Congo to Tanzania to the United States. As time passed, my partner and I became more engaging with the family. Soon the younger kids were especially sociable and excitedly vied for out attention. We also quickly became aware of the immediate needs of the family. Learning English is a high priority of the family especially for its matriarch and the children in school. Lately we have devoted time towards homework help and engaging the whole family in games that assist with English.

            As I reflect on our first few days of class, I remember feeling overwhelmed and anxious. We became well versed in the trials and tribulations refugees face and the winding, complicated process they must endure to get to the U.S. Looking back, this initial exposure to the comprehensive world of refugees was crucial and extremely beneficial. The information presented in the lectures, readings, and films were not meant to be dispiriting but instead equip us with the knowledge necessary to make our duties as a befriender and the relationships we hope to launch more realistic. I am reminded of the refugee experience simulation game, shocking statistics, and scenarios we played and discussed in class. These creative channels helped reveal what it is refugees encounter and challenged my own presumptions about the work I was soon to ensue.

            The class readings were a great resource for getting over my first meeting jitters with our family. Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere, spoke directly to my apprehension and fears about the first meeting. Pipher’s admission to her own uncertainties as she embarked on refugee was direct reflection of inner thoughts. My mind was racing with what ifs and embarrassment for my personal shortcomings that have a habit of complicating even communication with my friends and family. It is in her words, and often stressed in class, that I realized that I just needed to relax and smile through it all. The awkwardness in my first visit quickly went away as I became more relax. This eased mindset easily translated in my body language, signaling the younger kids that I am more approachable. Behnam Behnia’s article “An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees: The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations” helped me better define my role as a befriender. A befriender is crucial key to assisting refugee assimilation into American culture and lifestyle. Behnia points out that befrienders aid refugees with dealing with the stress of adjustment to a new society. This paired with her research gave me more insight on my responsibility as a befriender.

            Our class discussions have been very constructive. Hearing how the volunteer aspect of the course has been for my classmates is comforting. It is nice to know how others personally respond to the befriending process, and is reassuring to learn I am not alone in some of my thoughts. These discussions help me generate new ideas and techniques to enhance communication and interaction with my family.

            I am eager to see how I can further apply what I have learned in my befriending experience. The closer my partner and I become to our family, the more opportunities will open up for us to better help them get acclimated to the area and help them towards their goals.

Reflection 3: Seeing the Larger Picture

Aminah Walton

ANTH 301: Refugee Resettlement

Third Reflection Fall 2013

As this semester comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on how valuable this class has been to me. It is not often that we get the chance to apply what is being taught in such a genuine manner. My relationship with my refugee family is stronger and in an atmosphere filled with ease and amity. My original hesitations and fears have completely left me more confident and sociable with my family and the many other refugees I have had the great privilege of meeting at various events. These last few months have been inspiring and I feel more competent in perceiving how our classwork translates into our service. This course and its engaged learning component have allowed me to personally explore this complex relationship refugees have with the United States.

 When we first began this class, it became apparent that refugee resettlement was not a contemporary subject. America’s relationship with refugees spans over seventy years. In his book, Safe Haven, David W. Haines further describes this relationship as wide-ranging and vacillating. The many documentaries we have seen in class provide a great visual reflection of the complex relations Haines expresses. The films The Lost Boys of Sudan, By the Numbers, and Welcome to Shelbyville provide contrasting responses by various U.S. entities and American citizens. The Lost Boys of Sudan showcased how various volunteer agencies provide help and support to refugees. A specific example of this in the film is the volunteers in Houston inability to provide resources or guidance on what the Sudanese refugees considered most important. This volunteer group presented the refugees with furniture and other items but was not aware of who or how to get them enrolled in school. Both By the Numbers and Welcome to Shelbyville present the vast range in which Americans react to refugees moving into their communities.

These films also emphasize Haines idea that the mission of refugee social transformation is complicated by the diversity of refugees coming to the United States. In other words, since there is a lack of consistency concept became more recognizable during our reflective class discussions about our refugee families. It was interesting to hear how each family and even within each family the range of cultures, English proficiencies, and tenacity affected their aptitude to adjusting to life in Chicago. When I attended the Loyola Refugee Outreach’s Halloween celebration with my refugee family, these differences were clear in how they interacted with others and participated in the festivities.

As we examined refugee resettlement more intensely, the systematic issues concerning it become more apparent, altering how I approached my service. Stephen C. Lubkemann’s article “Refugees: Worldwide Displacement and International Response” proposes that displacement has a broad range of political, economic, social, and psychological effects. Organizations such as Catholic Charities are cognizant of these effects and aim to provide or have connections to services that help with refugees in these various aspects.

With my own refugee family, English competency is a crucial concern. This concern at times seemed especially daunting when regarding school paperwork and meetings. For one particular visit with my family the majority of the time was spent deciphering standard school forms. After discussing this situation with Patrick, our Catholic Charities contact, I was reassured in knowing that they work extensively with refugee families to obtain proper communication with the schools. Situations similar to this one allow me to see how significant these interactions with refugees are. As Lubkemann states these interactions help us build stronger more trusting relationships that provide deeper and more holistic understanding of the complex social effects of displacement.

As I reevaluate my relationship with my refugee family I have become more aware of my service role. Travis Profitt of the Center for Experiential Learning at Loyola defines service as having a twofold approach. First there is the immediate service needs. For me this encompasses my beginning visits with my family when my partner and I spent a lot of time helping the kids with homework. But as our relationship with the family grew, the second foot of service became more apparent. As they came to us with questions and concerns about school paperwork or venting to us about difficulties finding a job and receiving federal aid, we ourselves began to question and discussed with our class the larger systems at work. As Dianna Shandy points out in her writing “New Americans: The Road to Refugee Resettlement”, we can play a significant role in the adaptation process for refugees but also through this we can try to understand life from their perspectives. Observing from their perspective helped us realize the larger systematic issues at work with refugee resettlement. This acknowledgment is something that I take deeply to heart and I proudly anticipate the future challenges of being a refugee advocate. Michael Novak’s “Defining Social Justice” article has greatly influenced how I interpret social justice. Novak defines social justice as a specific habit of justice that’s “social” in two senses. First it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of justice and secondly, it is aimed at the good of the all not just one specific agent.

 I like this definition of social justice because it directly reflects our work in refugee resettlement. We are in balance of these two feet of service with refugees and the more we are able to understand and view the U.S. from their perspective, the more we can understand ourselves and contribute to the greater good of this nation.

3 Months in Rogers Park- Reflections in Refugee Befriending


3 September 2013

Reflection #1 :Stranger or Friends?

            If I am going to be completely honest with myself, I have no idea what I got myself into. Service learning is nothing new to me, I have volunteered at various places in Chicago to fulfill engaged-learning requirements. Working with refugees however, is completely different from anything I have done before. I plan to pursue anthropology in the future and of course that requires interacting with people within different paths of life. The explicit nature of social justice work in this class really appealed to me and lead me to enrolling in here in the middle of the summer. I believe the application of anthropology to social problems will be invaluable in the future and I hope to pursue applied anthropology in graduate school and eventually do activist-scholarly work as a career.

I find approaching refugee issues with an anthropological lens fascinating because it really takes on a whole new life considering the international, sociopolitical, economic, historic, and identity based facets that surrounds the extremely complicated issue that refugees face every day. The self-reflexivity and critical nature of anthropology especially in this situation where humanitarianism can be problematic and used to perpetuate neo-colonial inequalities and international oppression will be necessary for a holistic and culturally competent approach to refugee resettlement. I am glad to be privileged enough to learn about the lives of people who have experienced more than I will probably ever comprehend and be an educated advocate for marginalized people.

I feel like there is so much more at stake when dealing with people who escaped their country of origin and must adapt to a whole new environment than they lived their whole lives in. Even befriending sounds daunting, I want to be as respectful as possible and what if I offend or insult them accidently? When meeting new people, I have a very introverted demeanor and struggle with making connections strangers right off the bat. If I have trouble not being awkward with people now, how difficult will it be to make honest connections with people when we both come from completely different backgrounds and do not speak each other’s languages? When I do get comfortable with people, I do have the tendency to act more eccentrically and flamboyantly than the average male. So it’s a little more difficult because how will my personality change their perception and trust toward me, will they see me as a friend or as a strange American with no understanding of their culture.

Having a partner definitely relieves some stress, but like all group endeavors everyone has a different schedule and coordinating school, extracurricular activities, jobs and volunteering with Catholic Charities will be a challenge over the course of this semester. I feel as if I should devote a lot more time and effort than I can give because it is a program that directly deals with people and their needs. I am scared of failing as a volunteer and giving a bad impression to the refugee family I will be working with.

I foresee challenges with working with refugee families, but I remain optimistic in what I can learn. I am excited to help a refugee family acclimate to Chicago and eventually become close to each other. I hope to learn as much as I can with the class and my refugee family to better myself as an activist and anthropologist. This will be a brand new experience and I hope to grow as a person that seeks to advance social justice.


13 October 2013

Reflection #2: Sudan in Retrospect

            A lot of concerns and anxieties I had about befriending have definitely settled since I have first met the refugee I work with my partner. Despite what we learned in class and the many readings that address the lives of refugees in America, I still had a little anxiety especially since we met him a little later than most of the other pairs in class. Since then we have met several times and I can say we are comfortable with just calling him up before heading out to his apartment. I believe the befriending process has just begun and I am curious to see where we end up.

F*****, the Sudanese man my partner and I meet with is one of the most generous I have ever met. The first time we met him, he offered us water, then juice, then a never ending barrage of teas, then candy, and some soda for the road. We learned that had a roommate that was from Sudan as well, but was resettled through another agency and was in Chicago substantially longer than F****. F**** also works downtown as a dishwasher sometimes until three in the morning which explained why he could not meet us the first two weeks, but it seems that he really likes his job and the people he works with. F**** definitely made it clear that his main concern was learning English since the first day we met him. My partner and I mainly help with homework from his ESL classes at night. As Mary Pipher states in The Middle of Everywhere “Schools are the sacred ground of refugees, and education is their shared religion.” (Pipher 2002:113). I am not completely sure about where he wants to go after ESL classes, but I know he dedicates himself in practicing his English every day.

When I read the many roles that a befriender plays in Behnam Behnia’s article, it was very daunting and seemed to be very high-stakes, “Befrienders’ help refugees cope with the stress of adaptation to a new society. They encourage refugees to get on with their life and provide them with information, advice, practical help, and companionship. Befrienders also assist refugees by extending their social support networks.” (Behnia 2008: 16-17).  I really began to question the quality of my advice when F**** began to ask them. When trying to explain the rules of English, I really realized how complicated English is. The little nuances that even confuse the native speaker such as the difference between there, their, and they’re, words with many definitions, or normal American colloquialism, I really began to question my own understanding of English. There was another time when F**** had questions about health insurance through his job. I barely understand insurance policies, let alone trying to explain it to someone who never had experience with insurance agencies. The only advice that my partner and I could offer is to take his concerns to his case manager. I really began to realize the bubble I have lived most of my life, I spent most of my life in school with family to support me and that’s the extent of what I had to deal with. F**** had lived a large part of his life in refugee camps and now the rest of his family are still in the camps in Africa. I cannot imagine trying to go to school in a completely different language, work fulltime, dealing with the paperwork from a completely new political system, and doing almost all of it without an extensive support network.

F**** does not like to go into much detail about his time before and during his times at the refugee camps. He really enjoys the money he makes at his job downtown, since employment was extremely scarce back in the camps other than small farming. Contact with his family is very difficult since communication through the phone is sketchy at best and communication through internet is definitely out of the question. As I write this, the political situation in Africa remains incredibly volatile and unstable. He wants to save money as quick as possible to finance the expensive process of bringing his family to America and does not plan to return to Africa in the future. He loves being in America because you do not have to worry about being killed every day by soldiers or many other ways to die in the camps. He sees that there are so many opportunities to make money and life of his own here in America. I listen to his experiences in Africa and I can only sit there in awe from his stories of survival. I am humbled from what he has been through, more than I will ever hope to experience.

As I listen and process his accounts, I try to be as self-critical as possible. In the words of Mary Pipher, “There is nothing more insulting to the poor than romanticizing poverty” (Pipher 2002:328). I do not want to trivialize his struggle by seeing him as just a victim, rather I see him as someone who is active in trying to make it in America, an optimism I do not see in many Americans today. It has been powerful to listen to the accounts of refugees through text, film, and real-life. It has been an struggle because in many of my anthropology classes I have been taught to criticize the media narrative of Africa as a poor and disease-ridden place in favor of seeing Africa as a culturally rich and diverse place, but who am I to question his account? I had to reconcile this by embracing violence and tragedy as part of the cultural landscape of Africa in addition to its beauty and complexity.

In my time as a volunteer refugee befriender, I want to make sure that this experience will not just be for my benefit. I do not see this time with Catholic Charities as purely a class assignment or a way to get rid of an engaged learning requirement, rather it is a two-way street, an experience for me to engage with someone from a completely different course in life and being there for someone if they choose to seek anything. I do not want to waste F****’s time by not taking full advantage of the time we have together. It has been incredibly influential to force myself to reflect on these experiences through refugee resettlement and befriending.

The humanizing of these refugees through classwork and real-life interactions has been the most profound experience I had through this class. This befriending process has only begun and  I am already so invested in volunteering. I feel myself thinking a lot about one of the last lines in Middle of Everywhere, “We have another chance with all these refugees. People came here penniless but not cultureless. They bring us gifts. We can sympathize the best of our traditions with the best of theirs. We can teach and learn from each other to produce a better America. This time around we can get things right.” (Pipher 2002:349). I see the many possibilities and potential of advocacy and policy work for refugees in America, and I definitely plan to be involved in this struggle.

Works Cited

Behnia, Behnam.

2008 An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees. Routledge. Journal of

Immigrant & Refugee Studies 5(3):1-19


Pipher, Mary.

2002 The Middle of Everywhere. Orlando. Harcourt Books


04 December 2013


Reflection #3: Separate Ways, New Potentials

            The environments that I have been exposed to social justice in the past three years have been mostly in an academic college setting. I went to a very socially unaware high school, where classmates were divided between upper middle-class white suburbia and a highly segmented minority population. The most work we were expected to do was a semester of community service in the town, without reflection or critical analysis. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to come to Loyola with a Jesuit social justice based curriculum. I was exposed to radical notions of what activism is and the potential for change that young individuals can enact in the community. Working with refugees has been the most personal commitment that I faced in my time here at Loyola and it has been incredibly influential in my life and understanding of social justice.

There was a day in class where we watched a few movies in class about the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and the films really had a lot of connections to the Sudanese man my volunteering partner and I work with. The stories of difficulties in cultural assimilation, patronization, education, work, and just social life in general resonated with my experiences in working with Sudanese refugees in Rogers Park. One particular day that comes out in my memory is a day where his homework was vocabulary surrounding the kitchen. He was especially motivated that day since the kitchen he worked at had a variety of tools and appliances that he was not familiar with and hoped that he could make work life a lot easier. His grammar was slowly improving and we all had a sense of empowerment coming from him.

When reading David W. Haines book “Safe Haven?”, his historical and political based contextual analysis questions that data on refugees that policy works around, “Success and failure can only be illustrated in particular cases and the meanings of these cases is not always clear. Some refugees have done well in America and some have not. Many are in between.” (Haines 2010:163). I come to similar question myself when I reflect on my experiences in refugee resettlement. The man I work with seem to be content with his life in comparison with life at the refugee camps, it makes me realize the relativity of how different people perceive their lives.

Studying anthropology as a major, I am constantly faced with the question of how to interact with another group of people in a way that does not harm the other party. The risky boundaries between the social justice paradigm that the Jesuit tradition teaches and ethnocentrism in the forms of opposing western will on a whole community of refugees. The varying critical ethnographies we had to read in class are testament to this.

The article by Dianna Shandy addresses the need for ethnographic research on refugee communities, hers being the Nuer of Sudan “Refugees such as the Nuer are among the newest newcomers to urban and suburban areas in the United States, and anthropologists can play a role in the adaptation process of Nuer in America.” (Shandy 2009: 352). The chapter by Ted C. Lewellen describes the various theoretical approaches in anthropology and the moral and ethical boundaries that must be accounted for in the literature in the age of globalization “The range of variation will be as vast as the range of conflicts, cultures, and types of settlement. People do carry their cultures and values into exile, and there is usually a degree of self-selection, of choice, in the matter” (Lewellen 2002:181). In the article by Harrell-Bond and Voutira, the power of the ethnographer in refugee policy and what refugee communities have to offer in the study of cultural anthropology “A similar shift in anthropology could prove catalytic: it would eliminate the distinctions between theoretical and applied anthropology, predicated on historically entrenched disciplinary prejudices, particularly about the kind of anthropology that studies social change” (Harrell-Bond & Voutira 1992:9).  All of these ethnographic texts consider the role of the anthropologist in the lives of refugees in America. The complex web of culture and power dynamics are something an anthropologist must consider before engaging these communities.

I am not going to insult this experience by simply calling it an anthropology class or volunteering experience. I grew so much, not only as a student, but as someone who went from being scared of strangers into creating new friends different from myself. I can only hope that the time spent with my refugee family and partner will be of benefit for him in the future. All I know is that I learned much about what composes citizenship in America and the privileges that are lacking in the current state of the refugee system. I can see myself as an informed advocate for these issues surrounding refugees and my already set passion for migration based issues in America. I can only give so much thanks to the man from Sudan, all those involved in the class and Catholic Charities, and my partner for helping me through this life-altering service-learning experience.







Works Cited

Haines, David W.

2010 Safe Haven?: A History of Refugees in America, Sterling: Kumarian Press


Harrell-Bond, B.E,, and E.Voutira

1992 Anthropology and The Study of Refugees, Anthropology Today 8(4):6-10


Shandy, Dianna

2009 The Road to Refugee Resettlement, N/A


Lewellen, Ted C.

2002 The Anthropology of Globalization: Cultural Anthropology Enters The 21st Century, Westport: Bergin & Garvey

Welcome! My name is… Wanna walk around the neighborhood next week?





In today’s modern society, globalization is present in everyday life. This modern phenomenon has connected the world in a way that different cultures are no longer isolated from one another. However, the concept of globalization has become a norm, and society often overlooks how it has changed the way we live. We have all experienced this phenomenon at a personal level. Globalization presented itself to me when my family immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Initially, I was filled with amazement at how the people living in the same country could be so different from one another. However, the wonder has subsided as I realized that the United States is a country where different cultures can coexist. The cultural diversity of this country is a beautiful thing; however, embodying American values is an intimidating task. As a first-generation immigrant, I have personally experienced the difficulty of uprooting one’s life in an attempt to establish him/her in a foreign land. For this course, my main goal is to facilitate the acculturation process of the refugees to American life. Additionally, I wish to aid their integration into society without completely abandoning their traditional, non-American values.


              The rest of the world perceives the United States as the “Land of Opportunity.” However, upon moving to the United States, one begins to realize how difficult it is to live in this country. Thus, my main goal for the Refugee Resettlement course is to help the family acclimate to American life. I wish to educate them about the American way of living, from simple tasks like how to navigate Chicago to explaining the differences between Republicans and Democrats. Furthermore, I want to improve their communication skills so that the family may be confident enough to speak with strangers. Most importantly, I want the family to transition well into a new life here in the United States. It is extremely difficult and frightening to relocate to a foreign land. I want to be there for them, and offer as much of myself in order to allow them to have an easier time here in America.


            Partaking in the Refugee Resettlement course, I am filled with many concerns. My main fear is that the family will dislike me throughout the entire period of the course as a result of their past experiences. I do not necessarily know how to express that I am at their service, especially if there is a language barrier. Upon reading Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere, she states that she overcame the language barrier by smiling. Perhaps, by doing the same, I can earn the refugee family’s trust. Additionally, I fear that I may overstep my boundaries and probe too much into their past. I want to know about their past in order to help them for the future, but I do not want to trigger painful experiences. However, at the same time, I do not want the refugees to think that I do not care about their past. I hope to find a comfortable balance between being inquisitive and caring. Lastly, I want the family to adopt American values so that they may have an easier time living in the United States. However, I want the family to do so without abandoning their traditional, non-American culture. Their non-American values are so important to their identity and I do not want them to forget who they are and where they come from.


            I believe that the Refugee Resettlement course is an eye-opening experience. It will offer the class an alternative way of viewing the increasingly globalized world. As an American, it is easy to forget the things we have and focus on what we do not. By enrolling in this course, I hope to revitalize my gratitude for what the United States has given to immigrants like me by helping others who are attempting to create a new life in this country.


My name is …”


Prior to meeting the Iraqi brothers, I was extremely nervous, and I asked myself: “Am I ready for this?” However, before I could find an answer, the door opened and a young man greeted us with a smile. He invited us to come inside, and shortly after, his older brother joined us. The initial meeting was light-hearted and wonderful, and at that moment, I allowed myself to become immersed in the befriending program.       


During our initial meeting, I thought about the different ways to approach the befriending process. My initial thought was that there was a huge diversity in the refugee population, not just in their ethnic background, but also in their personalities. Thus, I began by assessing the differences between the brothers to determine their cultural starting points. The younger brother spoke English very well; however, the older one lacked the proficiency to speak English and was unable to participate in the conversation. By determining their starting points, my partner and I can create a plan that will cater to the specific needs of each brother.


Throughout our conversation, we discussed multiple topics that enabled me to see the differences between American and non-Western cultures. For example, the issue of familial hierarchy was addressed. In Iraqi culture, the elders of the clan were revered and seen as the family leaders. I shared with the brothers that the same system applied to Filipino culture; but in the United States, the nuclear family was the most important unit, and that parents were the leaders in this kinship model. Additionally, they informed us that they were in Istanbul for three years prior to moving to the United States. Upon hearing this, I was shocked to find that the sluggishness of the entire refugee resettlement process was true. Continuously throughout our conversation, I found myself referring to the phases of cultural shock. The brothers stated that they had been in Chicago for about two months. I tried to find signs of disappointment and frustrations with adjusting to American life; however, I was unable to detect any evident signals. Thus, I believe that they are still in the “Honeymoon Phase” where everything is wonderful and new. We asked them about their life here in the United States, and they both agreed that they enjoyed it. It is still early in their resettlement process, and so, I wonder if and when the brothers will transition into the other phases.


The brothers informed us that their mother and another brother were relocating to the United States, and that they wanted to enlist in the military to support the family. I was shocked by how they had established plans for themselves within two months of being in a new country. This information made me think of the different cultural perspectives, specifically the “Concept of Self.” Their statement evidenced the non-Western collectivist ideology of how the group comes before the self. I found this to be very noble.


The meeting with the brothers was absolutely wonderful. The entire time, they were smiling and eager to listen to what my partner and I had to say. Thus, they disproved some of the expectations I had regarding refugees. For example, I was shocked to find how fluid the conversation was between us. We were able to transition from one topic to another without much difficulty. Unfortunately, there was still a language barrier present, particularly in the case of the older brother. As for the younger one, he said that he could speak English, but he had trouble understanding some phrases. For example, in our attempt to explain the purpose of the befriending program, we made the mistake of using the word “adjusted;” and the younger brother looked nonplussed. We tried to explain the definition by equating it to “getting comfortable,” but for him, that phrase possessed a completely different meaning. Unfortunately, there was a situation where my expectations were disproven for the wrong reason. I had a preconceived notion that their apartment would be small, but I was astonished by their actual living conditions. I assumed they lived in at least a one-bedroom apartment, but instead, they slept in a studio where one of the beds was practically in the kitchen. Meeting the brothers dispelled my expectations regarding refugees, and allowed me to see this experience in actuality.


After meeting the brothers, I felt confident that they will succeed in this country. In The Middle of Everywhere, Mary Pipher lists the necessary characteristics that refugees should have in order to succeed in this country. For example, she states that “youth is a great advantage in a new culture” (Pipher 287). The brothers are young, energetic, and willing to work. Additionally, I am confident that the brothers will do well because they are eager to learn the American ways of life. For example, my partner and I tried to explain how Americans perceived the concept of time. We informed them that in the United States, “time is money” and that Americans valued punctuality. The brothers seemed to know this information already and agreed. Therefore, I believe that their familiarity with the monochronic concept of time will quicken their integration into American society. I feel that it is the role of the befrienders to ensure that the refugees adopt the beneficial American attitudes and customs. By choosing what to “accept from America,” the refugees can master “cultural switching” (230). Pipher addresses that the refugees who know when to “wear each culture” fare better than those who do not (162). Therefore, the befrienders have a direct impact on the success of the families.


The befriending program is important because it provides the families a chance to see a familiar face in a foreign land. As a result, a relationship is established that would allow the refugees to learn to trust people once more. During one of our visits, my partner and I met one of the brothers’ friends. His name was Mark, and he was also Assyrian. At first, I thought that it was absolutely wonderful that they had already made a friend in America. However, it worried me because this seemed to be a sign of cultural isolation. Hopefully, the brothers do not limit themselves by associating strictly with members of their own culture. Through the befriending program, the families are given a chance to meet Americans who are not of the same culture. The befriending program is a wonderful experience that allows people of different backgrounds to associate and learn about each other.


However, there are major limitations to the befriending program. From the beginning, the relationship feels artificial because it is as if the two groups are forced to meet. Therefore, it would be difficult for the relationship to transition into an actual friendship rather than one group helping another. Also, finding times to meet is difficult because each person has their own schedule. In our case, since both brothers are working adults, the growth of the relationship depends mostly on them because they are the ones who dictate when to meet. We are at their service; however, it is their choice to use the befriending program as a resource. However, these are minor problems compared to the ones that plague the volunteer agencies that offer the program. Behnam Behnia addresses the problems that volunteer organizations face in administering the befriending program. For example, organizations have difficulty finding volunteers who are willing to participate. Behnia states that recruitment is “the result of two selection processes: the selection of volunteers by organizations and the selection of organizations by volunteers” (Behnia 4). Additionally, volunteer organizations often have difficulty in retaining the volunteers they currently have as a result of circumstances beyond their control. Behnia states that volunteers end their participation because of several reasons, such as busy schedules, judgment from society, and “clients’ lack of interests in the relationship” (5-7). Subsequently, Behnia reveals several solutions to the problems addressed. For example, organizations recruit volunteers by promoting public awareness through varying types of media (13). To retain volunteers, the organizations offered continued training to foster a sense of purpose with their recruits and fight the demoralization that the befrienders may encounter (14).


The befriending program is an excellent resource that enables peoples of different cultures and backgrounds to become familiar with one another. More importantly, it offers a support system for the refugees in a new country. Thus, their adjustment to a new environment and integration into American society are facilitated. Although, it may have its problems, the befriending program is a wonderful experience with an exceptional purpose. My partner and I enjoy the brothers very much, and I hope they enjoy our company as well. I look forward to seeing how this relationship further develops.


“Wanna walk around the neighborhood next week?”


As the semester comes to a close, I reflect on my experiences regarding the befriending program and attempt to distinguish the act of direct service from the idea of social justice.


To be frank, I was unfamiliar with the entire concept of “social justice.” Prior to enrolling in the Refugee Resettlement course, I encountered the word “justice” through the media as people demanded changes in response to the injustices inflicted upon others. However, it was through the befriending program that I truly came into contact with the term social justice and understood its importance. From class discussions, we learned about social justice by contrasting it with “direct service.” I easily understood the idea of direct service because I realized that it was how I have been helping people; in other words, I was providing a “service” by addressing an “immediate need.” However, social justice was more difficult to grasp conceptually and I learned that it went beyond direct service.


Throughout our lives, we see injustices occurring and we try to rectify the situation by performing charity work. To help others is a humbling and generous act, but oftentimes, direct service is the most we are capable of providing. It is wonderful to meet the immediate needs caused by the injustices inflicted upon others; however, we must also ask questions as to why the injustices happen and what are the possible ways to change those unfortunate circumstances and end them. In one lecture, we discussed the concept of “the two feet of service.” The first foot represents the act of direct service; the other foot symbolizes the idea of social justice. In this metaphor, we need the first foot as a solid foundation because if there is no strong base, then we are unable to take the next step. After the second step, we need the first foot again to continue onwards. Without both feet, we may never move at all; therefore, both direct service and social justice are necessary in order to make a change. In Refugees: Worldwide Displacement and International Response, Lubkemann states that some non-governmental organizations combine their service efforts with advocacy. In the case of Doctors Without Borders, the NGO denounces human rights violators despite the possibility of an insulted government terminating their assistance activities (10). The NGO focuses mostly on providing direct service, yet they understand that no change will take place without taking the next step forward.


On a more personal note, the befriending program offers us a way to directly learn about injustice and marginalization. As “befrienders,” we provide a direct service by acting as cultural brokers for the refugees to help them with their acculturation process into the host country. In Anthropology and the Study of Refugees, Harrell-Bond and Voutira note that as cultural brokers, we are “[communicating] the perspectives of refugees” (8). Thus, we are acting as representatives for people who have no voice. By providing direct service to the refugees, we are helping them break free from the marginalization they experienced in their home countries. As they regain their voice and power, they become influential effectors for change and challengers of the present injustices. For example, in America by the Numbers, Maria Hinojosa explores the demographic changes in Clarkston, Georgia. In the film, she reveals the influence that naturalized refugees have in shaping local politics. Thus, they are the most effective advocates to challenge the injustices that they have personally experienced. Additionally, in Welcome to Shelbyville, the Somali refugees challenge negative misconceptions and intolerance by sharing their stories and cultures with the locals. By providing the refugees with direct service, we are helping to improve their conditions while enabling them to realize their potential for promoting social justice.

It is evident that both direct service and social justice are required to effect a change. Lubkemann states, “humanitarian assistance is only one component necessary for the solution of … challenges and by itself cannot solve the problems [of] displaced people” (10). If one focused simply on providing service, then there will be no challenges to the present conditions and no changes will take place. Conversely, refugees’ lives become more difficult if we exclusively promote social justice through advocacy and policymaking and ignore direct service. For example, we recognize first-hand the inadequacy of humanitarian laws by directly helping the refugees. To illustrate, many of the laws in place to protect the rights of stateless peoples are decades old and reflect the values of a different period. For example, “when the 1951 UN Convention was written, … 35 states participated; most of the colonial empires were still in place, … and the atmosphere of the Cold War was the backdrop to UN deliberations” (Harrell-Bond and Voutira 7). Drastic changes have occurred between then and now; thus, the humanitarian laws that are currently in effect are outdated and unfit for the new social environment of the contemporary period. The refugees share their stories with us and we can use their experiences to strengthen the weak points of humanitarian laws.


Upon reflecting on my experiences, I learned that there is a difference between service and social justice. Service addresses immediate needs; on the other hand, social justice challenges us to question the reasons for the present injustices. In Refugees, Lubkemann states, “humanitarian action only can be effective if the … fundamental political and economic roots of displacement and conflict are addressed” (10). Therefore, both are necessary to properly and effectively call for a change. In conclusion, we need both feet to move forward in the right direction.




America by the Numbers. Dir. Martha Spanninger. The Futuro Media Group, 2012. DVD.


Behnia, Behnam. “An Explanatory Study of befriending Programs with Refugees.” Journal of


Immigrant & Refugee Studies. (2008): 5:3, 1-19. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.



Harrell-Bond, B.E. and E. Voutira. “Anthropology and the Study of Refugees.” Anthropology


Today, 8.4 (1992): 6-10. Web. 3 June 2013.



Lubkemann, Stephen C. “Refugees: Worldwide Displacement and International Response.”


Anthronotes, 23.2 (2002): 1-20. Web. 10 Dec. 2013.


Pipher, Mary. The Middle of Everywhere: Helphing Refugees Enter the American Community.


New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002. Print.



Welcome to Shelbyville. Dir. Kim A. Snyder. K.A. Snyder Productions, 2010. DVD.








Service Learning Reflections

Pre-Service Reflection Paper

When I first signed up for this class last spring I never envisioned myself having to embark on such a challenge, as in helping a refugee family.  In accordance with that I was even more surprised and a bit overwhelmed when we were given all the paper work to fill out on the first day of class.  You could say that my feelings at the time were those of fair and anxiety for how everything would work out.  Volunteering isn’t new to me; however volunteering to help a family and possibly have a life changing affect on them was a hugely overwhelming thought.  I guess you could say that I thought it would be ludicrous that me, a normal 22-year-old student, can create such a relationship with people I have never met and seem as though I’d have nothing in common with.

And then you, Dr. Amick, began to tell us your story about a time when you helped a family with a simple photograph.  You told us how the family trusted you, and even more so you felt a great deal of responsibility to them, to find a way to make the photograph clear.  You mentioned that the family broke down at something so simple to me, a photograph, but to them it was the world.  I could tell right away how emotional it was for you as well.  To me that meant a lot, it showed that this was something you were deeply passionate about and something you truly care for and put your heart and sole into everyday.  At that point my initial fears and cautions that I had for the class went out the window, I realized that this wasn’t just about helping people make a transition to living in America, but making a difference in peoples lives.  It was no longer about taking them to the zoo and spending time with them, but about changing their lives from scrutiny and disarray to something amazing and long lasting.

Volunteering is something I’ve done before, so to me I’m not worried about that.  I’m not worried about how I’ll be able to find the time, or if my partner will be fun to be with.  Now all I want to do is start, I want to meet the family that I’ll be spending a great deal of time with over this semester.  I want to learn about their customs and beliefs, what makes them tick, and be able to share mine with them.  I understand after just one day of class and explanation from you that this is a magical journey that will not only change the lives of the refugee families but also of us as students.  My concerns are no longer about the simple things, such as getting to and from these places, or how will I find time to do my other class work.  To me the concern now is, will the family like me, will I be able to make a difference for them, and most of all will the family be able to gain from me what I believe I will be able to gain from them.  My biggest fear is that I will hurt them in some way by doing something as little as missing a day because I’m ill, or maybe by wearing clothes that make them feel uncomfortable.  I guess I just don’t want to disappoint them because I know that they have already had enough trouble times just getting to the United States.

I am excited for this semester and what this class has to offer both within the classroom and by spending time with the refugee family that I’ll be paired with.  From your explanation of time you spent with a family as well as the video you showed in class, I’m not as worried but more anxious to get started.  I feel as though this will be a life changing experience for me and one that I don’t want to take for granted in anyway shape of form.


Mid-Semester Reflection Paper

The first two meetings with our refugee family didn’t end up working out because of work scheduling problems.  On the third week we finally cleared it up and were able to meet refugee for the first time.  At first many of my initial fears were present, I assume they were for him as well because the conversation started a bit slowly and lasted that way for a bit.  Although our refugee’s English is pretty good, there are still many language barriers and we often times have to enunciate better, and slow down our talking so he can understand.  In many cases we show him examples of what were talking about using real life examples.  There were definitely some awkward moments at first but I think that eventually it became less and less awkward and more comfortable.  As my partner and I came back for other visits our refugee has become more open, and he is always smiling and saying, “how good everything is”.

During the initial meeting Patrick helped the conversation get going at first, and after my partner and I introduced ourselves there was a lot of silence at first.  We used a lot of the techniques we learned in class about asking questions and trying to make the situation more comfortable.  My partner and I asked questions about our refugee’s family as well as showed him pictures of our own and told him about our families.  We brought some cookies for our refugee and I think he was happy about it; they were all gone by the next visit.  The conversations began pretty dormant and when Patrick left it was a little difficult to get it started, at least for long periods of time.  I wanted to talk about what he expected from us as well as what we expected from him, I thought this would get the ball rolling and let us understand how we can help him.  I also wanted to make it clear that we were there to help him in any way that we could.  I also wanted to get it out there that this wasn’t our job and that we were choosing to be there.  I wanted our refugee to know that we had no obligation to be there and we were there because we wanted to be.

As befrienders are goals are to help our refugee with anything we can do as the class notes state, “Give as much as needed, as little as possible”.  On our first visit we got locked in our refugee’s apartment because his doorknob was broken, I had to jump out of his 2nd-floor window and go around to the front and try and open it.  Eventually I was able to open the door but we encouraged our refugee to try to get it fixed.  He explained to us that he was late for work one day because the same thing had happened to him previously.  After I realized the piece was broken and couldn’t be fixed, we explained that it would be wise for him to call the building manager and ask that someone come and fix it.  Our refugee quickly said “oh ok” ran down the hall and came back with the building manager who quickly replaced the doorknob and since he hasn’t had any problems with it.  Refugee’s reported that befrienders aided in assistance and guidance in a number of areas, such as tenant-landlord relationships (Behenia, 2007).  I think it was important for us to help him understand what he should do in those situations instead of one of us going and getting the manager for him and explaining the issue.

Recently our refugee was asking about his TV and why it wasn’t functioning.  We quickly realized it wasn’t plugged in and didn’t have a connection to cable.  He asked my partner and I if he needed an antenna for it to work, and we told him that he simply needed to get a cable to connect to the cable outlet.  The purpose for him wanting to watch TV is because he felt it would help him learn English better if he was immersed in English speaking people and culture.  I advised him on how and where he could get a cable for his TV.  Like we learned in class he was trying to fill the void of his “lack of mutual shared knowledge, language, and culture”.  It is important to him that he learn our customs and by watching them on TV he feels that he can learn even when not around other Americans.

In our most recent visit our refugee had asked us about a health insurance form he received from work.  My partner and I knew that he didn’t qualify because he hadn’t been working long enough, but didn’t know what to do.  We instead encouraged our refugee to call is caseworker at Catholic Charities.  It was important that we were able to guide him in the right direction because we didn’t feel comfortable with such important forms.  As the Pipher book states, “ everything is a test, whether of ones knowledge of the language, the culture, or of the layout of the city” (Pipher 60).  But I think that with befrienders some of these challenges are made more simple and easier to grasp.  Fathi has improved his language skills every week, and he has an easier time riding the L then I do.  I still get confused but he knows how to get to work, school, home, and to nearby shopping.  The Mary Pipher book also states, “what happens to newcomers without American friends?” (Pipher 52).  I know it would be difficult to come to a country with no money, residence, but if you had to come and didn’t receive guidance at all from a befriender or a volunteer agency to help; I couldn’t imagine the difficulties there would be for many of these refugees.

I wanted to know more about our refugee’s personal habits and experiences so far in the U.S and in Chicago.  A lot of what he told us was both shocking and also interesting.  We asked about what his job and how he felt about it.  Being a big sports guy myself, I wanted to know if he played any or knew about any, and I also wanted to know what his favorite teams in Chicago were.  By doing that I was trying to make a more personal connection right off the start, and not make it about service hours.  I also wanted to know if he would ever want to go to grass field and throw a ball around or kick a soccer ball around.

Although our first two meetings didn’t work out, I think when we finally met our refugee it worked out a lot better, and our visits since have been really good as well.  I think that our initial meeting was a success and that both parties gradually became more comfortable.  I’m not saying that I’m completely comfortable yet, nor assuming that our refugee was, but I do think some good groundwork was laid out.  I’m excited about how we left that first day and our plans for the future meetings with him.  I am no longer scared or nervous about our meetings.  I really enjoy meeting with our refugee, I think his excitement and enthusiasm about literally everything he does makes me happier to be with him and help him along.  If he wasn’t as motivated as he is I can honestly say I’d still be timid, but he is so upbeat and motivated that I can’t help but want to be there and help him.  Although we often times only help with his English lessons and homework I know that it makes a huge difference because he grasps more and more concepts every week.

 Works Cited:

Behnia, Behnam (2008) An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees: The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations.  Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 5(3):1-19.

Pipher, Mary  (2002)  The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community.  New York: Harcourt.


Social Justice and Service Reflection

When we first began this class I had no idea of the effect that volunteering would have on me.  It never occurred to me that by being apart of the refugee resettlement program would change how I looked at life.  I had volunteered in other programs since I was in high school and I never really got anything out of it, I also didn’t feel like what I was doing was really helping in any way.  Now I think much differently about it.  While working with the refugees I began to learn about myself and about them.  This semester’s experience has honestly been the most gratifying work I’ve ever done.  I think that this class has opened up my eyes to the real values of social justice and has been a great way for me to understand how the work with refugees is not just volunteering but also fighting for the rights of these people and for their well being in this country.  It is not about the hours you put in to help but the difference you can make in these peoples lives.  Even the most basic things are often the most genuine ways of helping and advocating for these refugee families.

We watched videos in class that helped me understand the viewpoints of other Americans and refugees towards one another as well as resettlement in the United States.  To me the most eye-popping video was “ Welcome to Shelbyville”.  I come from a pretty liberal background so seeing that people felt badly towards refugees was kind of shocking.  I never expected to hear people say that they are afraid of “being hurt” by the refugees, especially from high-ranking societal members.  “ A refugee is usually photographed or filmed for the new just after the escape through a thicket of border soldiers to safety… The long term refugee is seldom a subject” (Lewellan 2002).  Therefore people often move from feeling compassionate to passing judgment on them because “they are often seen as criminal” (Lewellan 2002). It was truly sickening that these people judged refugees solely by what they look like and not the person that they are.

It was disturbing how rude many of these people were to refugees both behind their back and sometimes to their face, one that stays most pertinent to me is when the reporter answers his phone during an interview.  It is definitely not easy for refugees to start over here, “In anthropological terms, refugees are people who have undergone a violent ‘rite’ of separation and unless or until they are ‘incorporated’ as citizens into their host state (or returned to their state of origin) find themselves in ‘transition’, or in a state of ‘liminality’western values” (Harrel-Bond and Voutira 1992). The video “The Lost Boys of Sudan” also gave great insight into the way that refugees feel when they come to this country as it explored the troubling journey of some Sudanese refugees who made it to the United States.

It is not easy to learn all new customs, a new language, new job skills, and on top of having a family and needing to support them there can be many struggles. “Volags helps refugees with such necessities as finding a place to live, getting a job, learning to ride the bus, and buying food” (Shandy, 2009).  In my experience with my refugee family there were a lot of struggles with technology and ESL classes.  There was a huge gap between what he was learning in his ESL classes and what he needed to be able to understand for work and transportation.  Like so many other refugee’s learning English is very hard at first, “Thok spoke some English but relied on gestures to understand people” (Shandy, 2009).   Often my partner and I had to use hand gestures or draw pictures to help our refugee understand what we were talking about.  I think that’s where my partner and my help was the most warranted.  We often spent time simply going over everyday topics and things that he would see and use in a regular day such as the names of basic kitchen appliances and kitchenware as well as how to get a Ventra card or transfer from one rail line to another.

I used to think that social justice was just helping others out because it was the “right” thing to do.  But my ideas since have truly been transformed into a whole plethora of what it means to be socially just.  I no longer think of it as a single element but now as more of a worldwide epidemic that is simply short lived.  Human interests stories often tell stories of refugees to advocate for them, “the goal of human interest stories is to personalize and emotionalize an event, issue or problem by helping the audience personally connect to an individual or individuals who represent the issue” (Steimel 2010).  In order for our world to be socially just people need to stop being judgmental, selfish, and especially ignorant.  When it comes to refugees I think that so many people are just simply ignorant and do not know anything about refugees so they create these ludicrous ideas of what they might be like.

In my opinion there are definitely some people in this world that are socially just and strive for the good of all people; I think there are examples of that in every facet of life.  However it seems that the majority of people are not socially just and don’t always do the right thing for everyone but simply for himself or herself.  As a result refugees are often judged as unhappy with life in United States, “As jobs become more difficult to find and keep, refugees are depicted as increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with life in the US” (Steimel 2010).  The problem may be that people don’t understand that there are issues or are too ignorant to try to understand them and do something about it.  Working with these refugees has enabled me to understand them: where they come from, the treacherous journeys they took to get here, and the hardships they faced when they got here.  Finding truly socially just befrienders is hard to fine, but I think that they can be formed, “It is a result of two processes: the selection of volunteers by organizations and the selection of organizations by volunteers… organizations often target certain groups of people and ignore or pay less attention to others” (Behnia 2008).  It takes a certain person who wants to help others achieve success to be a befriender and that’s what these organizations are looking for.

Therefore in conclusion I think that social justice is in essence learning about each other so that we can all work together to achieve a common goal that is best suited for everyone.  In order to make a difference and create equality you must first walk a mile in their shoes so you can understand what life has been like for these refugee families since coming to the United States.  If we understood even half of what they deal with on a daily basis here, then maybe we can help make a difference that will truly forge new prosperous beginnings for these refugee families.

 Works Cited:

Behnia, Behnam (2008) An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees:  The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 5(3):1-19.

Harrell-Bond, Barbara and Eftihia Coutira (1992) Anthropology and the Study of Refugees. Anthropology Today 8(4): 6-10.

Lewellen, Ted C. (2002) Refugees: The Anthropology of Forced Migration. In The Anthropology of Globalization by Ted C. Lewellen, pp. 171-184. Bergin and Garvey, Westport.

Shandy, Dianna (2002) New Americans: The Road to Refugee Resettlement. In Conformity and Conflict: Readings in Cultural Anthropology, Edited by J. Spradley and D. McCurdy, pp 344-353. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Steimel, Sarah (2010) Refugees as People: The portrayal of Refugees in American Human Interest Stories. Journal of Refugee Studies 23:219-237.

Reflection #1- Anticipating What’s to Come
Growing up, I really did not like school. The grueling time and effort that went into each assignment ended with an anticlimactic, hand written letter on the top of the page. It was hard for me as a child to put things into perspective. Unaware of the privileges I experienced on a daily basis, I depreciated my education. Learning my short sightedness and selfishness was and still is an ongoing process.
One definitive step of this learning process occurred when I watched a Korean documentary about a catholic priest who moved to Tonj, Sudan. What hit me was that his mission work was not limited to foreigner doing nice things for people, but as a man integrating himself and becoming part of a community. He carried out the generic tasks of building of a hospital, school and church, but it was not a task defined by pride. He learned the language, invested his time, his money and his life into supporting a community he considered to be family. It really struck me that he did not do it with an ulterior motive, but with sincerity and heart. This man without a doubt had the heart and compassion to do the things he did. But it was also his capabilities and the knowledge he gained that laid his foundation. His networking skills and educational background enabled him to efficiently support the needs of others. This priest really utilized resources and had seized every opportunity to learn.
In the Fall semester of 2012, I enrolled as a Freshman at Loyola University in Chicago. I decided to pursue a profession in the health care field and have a vision for what I could do in the future. I considered my time at Loyola as a time solely for academic endeavors. However, my short time being a part of the Loyola community has allowed me to see the impact that students can have. I initially knew little about Loyola’s Jesuit heritage and what it entailed. I formed respect and admiration for my peers who emulated Jesuit values. It hit me that I was admiring from afar when I too had the opportunity to take action.
There are a multitude of possibilities to carry out acts of service. But refugee resettlement is unique in the intimacy of the relationships that are made. My own identity as a child of immigrant parents gives me an affinity for other immigrant populations. Throughout my life, my friends were predominantly from minority populations. One of my close friends identified herself Bosnian. It took me a long time to really realize what that meant. Though I knew that she was born in Bosnia, I knew very little about the country itself, aside from its location on the map. And as I learned more about the Bosnian war and the conflict between Serbians and Croatians, I wondered how it was that I knew so little about it. And as time progressed, I realized that I didn’t know the first thing about current global conflicts.
I still don’t know much about what goes on in the world. But I do know that refugees are being resettled so that they can have hope for a better future. On an individual level, I have character flaws and I’m not the most capable person. However, I believe that I can offer friendship and sincerity to people who really deserve it. I want to participate in the resettling of refugees because I know that I am someone who can help them, even if it’s just in the smallest ways. I know that it is by God’s grace that I am where I am today, and I want to live that. I don’t know what to expect from refugee resettlement, but I am confident that it will be a learning process. My hope and prayer is that the relationships I form and the insights that I gain will not end with the semester, but will become things that I carry for the rest of my life.


Reflection #2- Loneliness

In my pre-service reflection, I explained that learning my short-sightedness and selfishness was and still is an ongoing process. My first weeks in the befriending program have been a time of painful realization of my flawed attitude and perception towards befriending as well as my failure to value the little I offered.
Before being matched with our befriending families, I wasn’t sure what kind of family I would be paired with. But in my mind, I anticipated it. I thought of different game plans of how I would structure my time, or what skills sets I would want to share with them. I was very optimistic and I held hopes. When my partner and I were matched, we were paired with an elderly woman who did not speak English and lived alone. My initial emotion was a sense of loss because it hit me that I had absolutely nothing to offer her. No homework, job resumes, or school projects that I could help her with. There were no small tasks to accomplish.
There is an existing “challenge” “to recruit more ethnically diverse group of befrienders” as the existing “majority are white, middle-class, highly educated women” (Behnia, 9). Though I am a female in the education system, I believed that my role as a minority makes a difference. In class we talk about possible situations with our refugee families: Culture-shock, maintaining boundaries, conversations about jobs or school, and the like. There was also an emphasis on understanding cultural differences and putting in effort to understand the meaning of our smaller interactions and dialogue. Personally, I like to think of myself as someone who is not deterred by cultural barriers. However, my limited experiences with befriending have already allowed me to recognize the other obstacles in building this particular relationship; that my “challenge” is not cultural but practical. The complications in this situation are not rooted in the way I interact with her, but her situation as a whole.
She is elderly, a woman, jobless, and has very limited English language abilities. Not only is she at the bottom rung of society, but she doesn’t have a family who partakes in her struggles. The family unit is one that can work together and share experiences. Many refugees “have their children interpret for them” (Pipher, 101), but that is another luxury that this woman does not have. Young men and women from refugee families work lower class jobs, but this woman, in her age doesn’t qualify for what little is out there. She doesn’t have anyone to bring in the little income that they can. Aside from the practical needs is also an emotional one. Social mobility, a nicer house, better food and other luxuries are enjoyed or desired in the context of a community. Whether it’s a family or friends, it’s the experience of knowing that people are partaking in your successes and failures. But if that community doesn’t exist, it’s harder to want more things from life.
We watched a documentary about the Bhutanese refugees in New York and I find it very relevant. The experience of refugees as the government takes away support. As they are confronted with a harsh reality, families and individuals struggle to get by each day. The ensuing fatalism and depression only grows as time passes. Mary Pipher also wrote about two Kurdish sisters, who after a year were “still deeply in debt, lonely, haunted by the past, and struggling to master our language and our culture.” (Pipher, 63) Generally speaking, depression is common amongst the elderly. It is the time period in one’s life when people are strongly confronted with a lack of purpose. But what is it like to be elderly, and then be a refugee without a family or community? Alone? In the few befriending sessions that I’ve have, I haven’t seen signs of depression. But I feel that if it’s not there, it’s almost inevitable that it will eventually occur. And any existing or kindling emotions of loneliness, depression or fear can only antagonized by her current situation as an elderly refugee resettling alone.
In the Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, Behnia mentions that “Several organizations wrote that volunteers’ interest could wane when they did not feel needed, helpful, and appreciated.” (Behnia, 11) The tendency for people to have to feel needed is unfortunate. Especially for educated people, there is often an imminent sense of time and need to schedule down to the minute. The need to produce results and change lives makes us want to cram our befriending sessions with tangible accomplishment. Myself, I planned my schedule tightly around our befriending our session. I sometimes walked roughly two and half miles instead of taking the bus because the buses were slower on weekends. And as I was making this effort to give befriending a time in my schedule, I felt a growing desire to have a tangible achievement or accomplishment; something that would affirm my time investment. It’s hard to quantify emotional support and hard to measure our own success or giving. But when we get caught up in that, befriending stops becoming about them and becomes about us.
During my own befriending sessions, our conversations spanned a few minutes and the span of our three hours was filled with the sound of the TV. I think in my own few experiences, what is most reflected is my own selfishness in my expectations and my own hopes to gain insights. It occurred to me that I came in with more expectations than I had believed. I was shortsighted in that the relationship became about me; and what I would learn. I was focused on accomplishing and my own self-growth that I put the relationship second. It took me time to realize that the silences, though unproductive, were meaningful. That, once a week my partner and I were a presence that meant that she didn’t have to sit in silence alone. What was important was not being efficient but relishing in the time we were together. I believe that just being there gives so much support and emotional encouragement.
Prior to the befriending program, I anticipated the relationships that would be made. But I discovered a harsh realization that in the intimacy gained, there is a great burden that follows. I’m very aware that being there is all I can do. It’s frustrating to feel helpless and unable to give. When I think about the way she lives, alone and without a goal, I have this strong urge to say something reassuring, that I can be her family or her support. But I know that I can’t live up to those words. I have temporarily withheld volunteering, research and job opportunities so that I could schedule in refugee resettlement the best I could. However, I am not confident that I can be faithful to this commitment past this semester, or have the ability to consistently meet her again. Behnia discussed the “volunteering” aspect of befriending as a disadvantage. Because the befrienders are in control of how they will pursue the relationship and when it will end. I’m afraid of my own inability to maintain this relationship. The injustice I will do to her by starting a relationship and ending it when it’s convenient for me.
But even then I need to be on my feet. Right now I am confronted with several questions.How can I support this woman the best way for her? Do I have what it takes to be her community? The question I wanted to answer most is, “Can I find a community for her?” But I believe that the answer to that is “no”. It’s what’s ideal, but it isn’t something I can accomplish. I don’t know what community is best for her, or how to even find that community.


Reflection Paper #3- The Meaning of Service and Social Justice

Every week this semester is marked with signs of growth. Learning topics ranging from politics, advocacy and resettlement has been a very insightful process. The more I learn about things going on in the world and here in the US, it gives me a growing sense of admiration for the refugees who have made it this far. I can’t even begin to understand the struggles that people have been through and are going through now.
Refugees each have their own stories, their struggles and their own journeys that brought them to the United States. Resettlement was not accurately portrayed overseas and people are holding onto it as a hope and dream. But that life isn’t that idealized image that people have. The reality of resettlement is a harsh one as people are forced to assimilate themselves into society as quickly as they can. The hopes they have are crashed on and tried over and over again. The people we work with in befriending are truly trying their best to survive in the reality that they live in.
Watching documentaries about refugees in Georgia and Tennessee made me realize that I’ve never lived outside the city of Chicago. I’ve never been immersed in a predominantly white community in the way that they have. I had this belief that I might not understand their home countries like they do, but I understand America. But it hit me that I haven’t experienced much of America either. Being in this class has been a repetitive process of seeing my short sightedness.
The befriending experience has assisted me in revaluating my concept of time. Time is valuable, but the question now is how do I spend it and whom do I spend it for? As University students, we have things we want to do. We schedule in our classes, our volunteering, our jobs, our religious activities, our extracurricular activities, our time to be friends or just alone. But at the end of the week, it usually revolves us as individuals. We’re just wired that way as humans. Befriending was challenging in that it’s a time investment throughout the span of a semester, but the quality and character of that time changes. Initially, there isn’t a real relationship. We’re friendly and warm but it’s not quite enough to feel the comfort of an intimate relationship. The challenge was recognizing that befriending is so much more than what I feel or what I need. The situation isn’t about me, it shouldn’t be.
I have communities of family, friends and acquaintances but the refugee’s don’t have that luxury. From the very beginning, the relationship was uneven. As time went by, our relationship started to develop. The subtlest changes in her mannerisms was reflective of greater emotional depth. When I thought about the changes of our group dynamic, I’ve had conflicting feelings. There is definite progression in intimacy and affection, but what I’ve also realized is the rift in emotional investment. I’ve also grown to love her and enjoy her presence but I feel that I’m incredibly significant to her. Her community is very small whereas I have multiple communities that are fairly extensive. It’s like if two people are friends, but one person has 5 friends and the other has 50, then the importance and significance of that relationship is unequal. This is inevitable and it doesn’t mean that befriending is wrong. It’s just one of the many difficulties and struggles that refugees are faced with when resettling.

At the Social Justice Dialogue on Refugees, panelist Dr. Hakker argued that the Jesuit mission shouldn’t be to promote a common set of values but a common set of norms. She didn’t delve into a deeper discussion about it, but I felt that she really nailed it. As a whole, I left feeling this Dialogue a little dissatisfied because of my own preference for concrete and practical advice to follow all the inspiring words. But I realized that this class in itself is the action that follows the words, especially in relation to Dr. Hakker’s. I believe that this class is stimulating the development of common norms. We aren’t expecting refugee’s to force themselves to fit themselves into the American persona nor are we trying to insert ourselves into their cultural context. We are learning to embrace the norms of cultural plurality. As a class we’ve all learned things about refugees, ourselves and communities. Some of the things we learned will be forgotten and faded in our memories as time passes. But the important things are going to stay with us. The perspectives that have been opened up to us will change the lens through which we see the world. One class might seem dismissible in the context of the world, but I believe that 30 students every semester is a steady and sure sign of progress for humanity.

I believe that I’m echoing the words of Dr. Amick when I say that it’s truly an honor to be able to work with a group of people who are so resilient despite the lives that they’ve had. And it’s also an honor to be a participant of this class where I had opportunity to such a rare and insightful form of education.

Talking Over Turkish Tea & Iraqi Biscuits with Friends

Reflection #1

As I get ready to embark on this journey, I feel hopeful. I see the potential of impact that a few hours of my time can have on a family’s future. I feel ready to help, to welcome, and to facilitate day to day things that the family may need to survive in our country. Over the past few days I have been thinking at length about what it would be like to meet my refugee family for the first time. Although I am the most excited I have been in a long time, a humbling nervousness has set in. Similar to being on a rollercoaster at the very last moment –that last grunt of the metal- before it pulls you over the drop. After that initial push, I know things will come to speed. I hope to have experiences with the family that would take us on a thrill ride and are exciting for everyone involved. Before I know it, I hope to have forged a genuine relationship with my family that would last much longer than this semester. Although, all my excitement does come with nerves, I am confident that this will be a great experience, well worth the momentary butterflies.

Firstly, I am worried that the language barrier between my family and me will keep us from reaching the full potential of this relationship. Once our Catholic Charities agent leaves, I am afraid I could be left clueless about how to efficiently communicate with my family. If they have very little understanding of English, I may find myself unsure of how to communicate effectively. Although if my family has children that are in school they may be able to speak English and be of great help communicating with their parents.

Next, I am concerned that there may be cultural differences that would hinder our relationship at first. I hope not to be unintentionally offending by not complying with any cultural norms. I remember learning in my Sociology class about how aspects of one culture could be completely different from another. Things like taking off shoes before entering someone’s home, physical contact, body language or dinner table etiquette. I am hoping my family leads me through their cultural norms as I lead them through ours.

Finally, although there may be bumps in the road I am determined to be there and help my refugee family since I have been in their shoes before.  My real family and I have moved to America just a little over 9 years ago. Although I was not born here, I feel to have assimilated into the American culture quite comfortably. Since English is not my first language I took ESL classes when I started my American education in high school. I feel my new family may be suffering from many of the same things that my family and I struggled with when we first moved to America. For example we struggled with filling out stacks of official paperwork and other government documents. I feel that I can walk my new family through the tedious forms and applications and be able to decrypt and explain the legal language within. Simple things like knowing how to manage credit cards without entering interest debt and building credit history are other things that I feel I can teach my family thorough my experiences. Much thought and preparation has gone into meeting this family, and I get the feeling that this will be a worthwhile experience. I cannot wait to get started!


Reflection #2

I have been meeting with my family from Iraq for a few weeks at this point. Each visit has been better than the last. To keep their identities anonymous, I will refer to them as John and Jane. My time with the family goes by in a blink of an eye; but as I reflect upon my time with them I see deeper links between the readings, class lessons and time spent with my family.

First, reading through my pre-meeting reflection, I now realize that a lot of my fears were unfounded. My nervousness was almost instantly gone when I met John and Jane. John and Jane are one of the friendliest and most welcoming people I’ve met. One of my many initial fears was that I would be unable to or it would be difficult to communicate with them once Patrick finished introducing us and left. Thankfully, I was definitely wrong. Our conversation kept flowing like nothing had changed. As learned in class I followed befrienders’ best practices by listening carefully and asking a lot of questions. There was so much to learn about each other. On the first day we exchanged pictures and talked about our families and everything about them. Like discussed in class, bringing photographs of my family to the first meeting vastly improved our experience. It was exciting for me to see John and Jane’s family pictures just as much exciting it was for them to see mine. Another fear I had was feeling isolated due to the language barrier. However, lucky for us John speaks and understands a vast amount of English. He is able to translate for his wife, Jane. Their English is at the point where further learning comes at ease. Our focus on the recent visits has been helping with the English homework and they are making great progress.

Next, I was worried that our cultural difference would keep us from enjoying the full potential of this relationship. I was so wrong! It is this very difference of culture that is keeping this relationship thriving. Not only have we been teaching them about our culture but we have been learning a lot of theirs. I have had everything from Iraqi tea to Turkish coffee and many exotic dishes. I am always learning new words in Arabic and have perfected my greetings in Arabic too. It really came to me as a shock when John began speaking to me about reading some of my favorite authors such as Mark Twain and Hemmingway. He explained to me that he liked to read in Iraq and has read the Arabic translations of many of their books; we are not so different after all! We try to show John and Jane the norms of our society and they soak it all in with enthusiasm. John and Jane seem to be at the adjustment phase of culture shock and they seem to adapt well to life in Chicago so far. According to Behnam Behnia, befriending volunteers offer emotional and informational support in learning about the new society that they have entered. As a befriender I feel that I serve as the much needed link between John and Jane and learning the Chicagoan life that may be far from their grasp without assistance.  John has told me that they haven’t begun meeting the neighbors yet. According to him, we are their only American friends right now. This really put into perspective the impact our work has and gave me a renewed motivation to keep doing what we have been doing so far.

In contrast, despite all the progress many things are not quite at the level where I’d like them to be. I see much room left for improvement. Every visit involved us helping Jane with her English homework but John never brings out his homework or any practice worksheets to work on. I am concerned he may speak and understand English well but he may be struggling in reading and writing. I have mentioned my background to John and explained to him that I have had gone through two years of ESL courses myself a few years ago. I am hoping John feels comfortable enough let down his guard and bring out his homework in the next few visits. Mary Pipher mentions that refuges feel vulnerable and dependent when they can’t express themselves. This can be especially hard on an educated man who has to learn a new language. John is a highly educated man; he was a well-respected lawyer in Iraq at the prime of his career. He could be feeling intimidated and therefore be avoiding his English lessons altogether. Another story told by John that comes to mind is when John tried to board a CTA bus and he had no idea how the payment process worked. He could not communicate with the driver or any other passengers. John said he felt as if he was mocked and alienated; therefore John and Jane now avoid the bus altogether. They chose to walk everywhere they go. I understand his frustration as my real family and I have went through the same confusion of riding the CTA when we first moved from India to Chicago. It must be hard for John to be held in such high regard by the courts of Iraq while in America he feels that he is made subject of ridicule. My future plans are to convince him to ride the bus with me at least one time so that I can get him familiar with using the public transportation of Chicago.

The befriending program has helped them transition faster and has become a valuable aspect of their resettlement process. The only limitation I see thus far is being unable to spend more time with them due to complication in both of our schedules. However I hope to continue this relationship in the upcoming weeks and build upon the progress we have been making.


Reflection #3

               I came into this class very naive and uninformed about the plight of the refugees around the world. The first day of class felt very intimidating. The concept of refugees from around the world being resettled in our community felt very foreign to me. Throughout the class period, I wondered why the news never broadcasted anything regarding refugees in Chicago. I wasn’t sure what it would be like going into a stranger’s home, interacting with them, and possibly becoming their friend. I still remember the fear of commitment that took over me when we had already begun filling out forms for the catholic charities on the first day. However, after hearing Dr. Amick speak so passionately about the modern day injustice the refugees suffer from, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and let go of any inhibitions I was holding on to regarding the service component. I am so glad I did!

               My befriending partner, Mary, and I have been meeting with “John and Jane” for at least three hours every week for a few months now. Each visit is more enjoyable than the last. We are always welcomed with a warm embrace and firm handshakes and the goodbyes are always prolonged until the last possible minute. We started the semester as strangers in the family and now we both feel like a part of the family. In fact, Jane, on one occasion, referred to Mary and I as her other daughter and son. Even without realizing it during the earlier meetings, we were already teaching and learning aspects about each other’s cultures through conversation alone. This learning was only expedited when we started helping John and Jane with their ESL homework as we were teaching them meanings and context of countless words in English while we were learning many more in Arabic. They particularly enjoy teaching us new words in Arabic and are amused when we try over and over again to get the pronunciations right. This brings to mind what guest speaker, Travis Proffitt, said about knowingly or unknowingly giving “instructor power” to people who were robbed of power their whole life. I feel that this is essentially what Mary and I do during our lessons with John and Jane. I also closely related to Travis’s idea about two legs of social justice and the befriending process being one of the legs. John has told me that they don’t socialize much with the neighbors and don’t know any other Americans besides us. He has inferred that working with students is the only close encounter they have with Americans. This drives home to the point that we, befrienders, serve as a leg that helps the refugees keep stability while adjusting to a new culture.

             I, being a biology student, have never come into contact with a coursework solely focused on social justice before. My basic understanding of social justice before this course was one regarding helping the poor and feeding the hungry and such. After this course, I have a renewed perspective of how social justice could be practiced on a global scale.Social justice is practiced on a wide global spectrum to help our fellow human beings that are in immediate need through various methods. These methods include of resettling and befriending these victims of injustice and marginalization, being on the frontlines at the refugee camps, and advocating change in Washington and UN. Through watching the documentaries in class such as “The Lost Boys of Sudan” and “By the Numbers” by Tish Hinajosa, I am able to understand the feeling of hopelessness the refugees face when they feel that they are given false hope at the orientation before resettling to America or when they keep recieving used furniture when what they are really looking for is education and an opportunity to succeed. While I understand that the help feels inadequate and there is room for improvement, I also understand the restrictions and financial limitations that VolAgs and other agencies are bound by.

            A major problem on campus is that there is not enough awareness about the refugee program amongst the general population of Loyola. When I mention my volunteering with John and Jane to my peers from the biological studies, I mostly get puzzled looks and much curiosity about refugees in general. I have the hardest time explaining that being a refugee is not just the fact that you were forcibly driven out of your home but that the hardships faced by refugees include life in the camps, navigating the tedious governmental process of obtaining refugee status, the cultural shock from being resettled into a foreign country, and not to mention the physical and psychological scars that remain with them forever. The knowledge gained in class and my newly acquired personal experience of working with the refugees gives me confidence to speak and inform those who have not yet have had the opportunity of being a befriender. Therefore, elements like Dr. Amick’s course, this blog, LUROP and others are crucial to bringing awareness and action from the loyola community to the refugee world. Travis’s concept of charity vs. change outlines that to alleviate the refugee plight, we not only need charities and volunteers to work the frontlines but also compassionate policymakers and advocates in the government that could help end the cycle itself. This renewed concept of social justice in the context of refugees could be adopted by the Loyola community as we have, both, the willing hands who live by the mission of social justice and the bright minds that are striving to change the world in careers such as medicine, business, political science and law, amongst many others.

Social Justice in the hands of Volunteers

We all know that the main reason why refugees seek refuge in another country is because they are experiencing persecution in their own country due to race, religion, nationality, and/or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. One would think that refugees would stop experiencing discrimination after moving to the United States. That is not the case. After viewing Lost Boys of Sudan (2003) and Welcome to Shelbyville (2010), I was surprised at the way some refugees were mistreated by Americans. Refugees still confront discrimination and hatred wherever they go. For me, it is frustrating to see that no matter where refugees go, they always seem to struggle with some kind of discriminatory problem; almost as if it were an endless cycle.

According to Travis Proffitt from the Center for Experiential Learning, “social justice is succeeded when people are able to make health choices for their lives without others impeding.” Having experienced discrimination and violence in their own country, refugees are deprived from making healthy choices for themselves. They are forced to flee into the hands of other countries, who in turn treat them the same as their native countries. Welcome to Shelbyville (2010) illustrates the complex relationships Americans have with refugee and immigrant newcomers. Some of the issues that arise are the following: suspicion, change, culture clash, stereotypes, bigotry, discrimination, and rumors and gossip in public media. In this film, viewers get perspectives from people of different ethnic backgrounds. Catherine (name changed to protect identity), an African American key participant in this movie, had a hard time accepting the Sudanese refugee population in Shelbyville. She connected the bombing that occurs in Sudan with the Sudanese women in Shelbyville, making it impossible for her to see them as threat less individuals. This key participant is a perfect example of how Americans are misinformed about refugees. Refugees are negatively stereotyped, thus promoting negative behavior towards them, which in turn hurts them. White residents of the community stated that “the thought of having more refugees was scary because they bring diseases.” Michael (name changed), a pastor at a Presbyterian church, says “I don’t know what it means to have this change. I don’t know how to change something that has been ingrained in me for a long time.” After viewing the film, Latinos have less of a hard time than other residents adapting to refugee resettlement. Latinos being immigrants themselves, they understand where refugees are coming from; they are welcoming and supportive of the newcomers. A Hispanic family that was interviewed throughout the film stated that “it was a matter of time before everything changed into the positive light.”

In Lost Boys of Sudan (2003), one of the lost boys complained about how his boss told him that being the cart boy suited him well, because since he was from Africa and had dark skin,he was used to working in the sun. How are refugees expected to feel free from discrimination if the same problem they were facing in their country is the same problem that they are experiencing her in the United States as well? How are we, as Americans, say to other countries that we are pro refugee resettlement, if we don’t even believe in the word social justice itself? One would think that the problems refugees have of discrimination are out of the picture once they come here, but that is not the case. Refugees are very vulnerable people, and when heartless Americans see this, they tend to take advantage of the opportunity. How? By giving them the worst jobs, paying them less than they deserve, humiliating and making up information about them through the media, and over generalizing about all refugees as “bad people.”

For me, social justice is the continuation of one’s effort to make a difference in this world. After taking this course, I learned the importance  and the true value of befriending programs. I want to give a round of applause to the volunteers who become part of such a great program. They are the ones who are advocates for a healthy change. They are the ones who are helping promote social justice. Without any volunteers to run these generous programs, refugees would not have anyone to look up to. My understanding of service and social justice has changed since the beginning of the course. By no means, this was my favorite class of the semester; I completely enjoyed coming to class. From class discussions to class speakers to the films we watched, I can say that I have learned a lot about giving service and about refugees themselves. I cannot thank my professor and the befriending program enough for the wonderful experiences that I have had with my refugee family. It has been a pleasure to work with them and see progress in their lives here in the United States. With as little as helping the children with their homework, I was able to see the appreciation that they have towards having someone take time and dedication to be a part of their lives. I hope to continue seeing my refugee family and become part of many more experiences in the future. They have made a huge impact in my life and I hope I have done the same in return. One quote that I gained from a class speaker and that I will always take with me is, “Don’t think that change is not going to happen if all you do is ask questions. You are actually falling short in the long run if you don’t ask questions. So, go ahead, you need to ask those broad big questions.” I will continue asking these broad questions, because after all, that is how one succeeds in finding the answers.



Refugees Who?

Out of all the places that I have volunteered in, it never occurred to me to become a volunteer at a befriending program. Why? Simply because I did not know what befriending programs or refugees were. It wasn’t until I took this class that I started to understand who refugees really were and what befriending programs were really about. When I met the refugee family that I was going to work with for the first time, I couldn’t help but smile. They were so welcoming and eager to get to know me; it was as if I was part of their family. It wasn’t until our first meeting that I fully understood the importance of befriending programs. As volunteers, we assist refugees with learning English, helping with the children’s homework, assisting with grocery shopping and learning transportation system, etc. After learning from the lectures in class, I believe that it is important for volunteers to know about cross-cultural differences and to point out to refugees these differences in order to help them adjust to a new environment more efficiently. It is also important to increase awareness so that countries who are accepting refugees to resettle can address problems such as lack of mental health care in refugees.

From the readings that we have been assigned to, I was really drawn into Steiml’s article, The Portrayal of Refugees in American Human Interest Stories. Here, Steimel talks about refugees being in search for a better life in the United States and being eager to become part of the American Dream, just like everyone else. Refugees mainly look for two things: education for their children and employment for themselves in order to sustain their family. What refugees find, however, is the lack of employment or consistency of employment in the United States. According to Steimel, “Not only are refugees having trouble finding jobs at all, refugees are having trouble keeping jobs once they are obtained” (12). Refugees are having difficulty finding employment simply because there are no jobs out there. Other factors include lack of experience, language barrier, and most commonly lack of time management. This ties back to what I learned in class about cross-cultural differences, concept of time being one of them. Americans and refugees have different definitions of concept of time due to the present cultural differences. Americans see time as monochromic- time is seen as a commodity and precious; it simply cannot be wasted. Refuges, on the other hand, are polychromic, that is they don’t see time as a commodity and believe that there is always more time. As a volunteer, I can relate to this exact problem that the refugees that I am working with have. The mother of the family that I am currently working with was unfortunately dismissed from her job. The reason being? She did not understand the importance of time management. She was late to her work on multiple occasions and would not be present on some days that she had to work. I was notified about the problem and so right now, my job is to assist her in understanding that time management is very important here in the United States. Unfortunately, “as jobs become more difficult to find and  keep, refugees are depicted as increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with life in the US” (12). As a result, “the frustrations culminate, for some refugees, in a desire to return to their home nations” (12).

In the article, An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees: The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations, Behnam Behnia indicates that, “befriending programs improve health, increase levels of happiness, reduce the effects of social isolation, and cause the remission of depression” (3). When refugees come to the United States, they have no sense of what the American culture is all about. They are discouraged when they experience a language barrier with people they are interacting with. They also learn quickly that American show differences in values and behaviors than they do, such as concept of self, concept of responsibility, locus of control, and concept of time. Having such a rough past and moving into a new foreign country with differences feeds into poor mental health. In The Middle of Everywhere, Mary Pipher shares her view of mental health in refugees. She states that “psychology is irrelevant to most newcomers. This doesn’t mean that refugees don’t have mental health problems. They have high rates of depression and anxiety. But in their hierarchy of needs, these are not their most pressing problems” (104).

It was after reading Pipher and Behnia, that I truly realized the importance of befriending programs. Sure volunteers are there for assisting with the children’s homework, reading letters, and perhaps assist them with grocery shopping. Mainly, however, they just simply need someone to talk to. After having a rocky and difficult journey, refugees have a lot of emotions that they have to express. I believe that having befriending programs helps diminish mental health problems that refugees experience after moving into the country that they sought refuge. In the United States, for example, refugees are given healthcare for the first months of moving in. This healthcare, however, does not include mental health. Refugees can’t treat illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorders simply because they are lacking resources that they really need. By having befriending programs, refugees can seek some sort of support from the volunteers by having someone to talk to and to help them move from the disenchantment phase to the adjustment phase. Being a psychology major has taught me the importance of mental health. It is disappointing to know that the United States does not address this issue in refugees. For future improvements, I hope that the United States, as well as other countries, learn the importance of healthy mental standing and that refugees seek help once they resettle. With aiding refugees with their mental health problems, we can facilitate their adjustment into their new country.

Befriending programs are very important because refugees depend on volunteers to help them during their adjustment phase. I am happy that I had the opportunity to be a volunteer in the Catholic Charities befriending programs. This program, as well as the class, has helped me understand who refugees are and to see America in a refugee’s point of view. Life isn’t easy for refugees her in the United States, but with befriending programs we can make a difference little by little. One issue that I would like for the United States to solve is the lack of mental health care. By resolving such problem, we can minimize mental problems such as depression and PTSD. I am glad that I became part of such a great class, it has surely helped me grow into a more humble and understanding person.


wideI have no experience with either refugees or a befriending program. I hope that I have something to offer the family.  I really want them to feel connected to the rest of the city.  I am surprised to learn the history of Nepal and Bhutanese refugees.  It seems that there is an amazing amount of refugees in the world, more than I ever imagined, from places I didn’t even know existed.  I have been amazed how not only worldwide is the problem of refugees but also what a historic problem it is .  The refugee problem became part of the world’s consciousness after World war II when there were large populations of displaced persons.  In addition, there were people exiled from the places that they had grown up in because boundaries had been redrawn or there was new majority leadership.  Whole populations were moved from one area of Europe to another.  While I am aware of the celebrated refugee issues involving the Sudan and the Congo.  I was unaware of similar issues in the rest of the world.

I hope to learn about what issues the refugees face in the world and  become more aware of the refugee population that I am sure I walk by every day.


Befriending Has No Goodbyes

Samantha Woods
Anthropology 301: Refugee Resettlement
Daniel Amick
Fall 2013
Befriending Has No Goodbyes
Much like christening a ship to sail away at sea, the end of this semester was more so apprehended than other classes because it means the end of my befriending analysis. The Iraqi woman I have met and been visiting over the 3 month course of time after our first family did not need my help or friendship has become more than a class project. Though it seems difficult to comprehend a family as an ‘assignment,’ it was hard for me to image what exactly refugees and asylum seekers go through outside of learning statistics in the classroom.
I had the fortune to live in the same neighborhood as my refugee family so; we were able to both get to know the same resources, grocery stores, parks, libraries, etc. as friends. It was very liberating to know and be shown that I was helping someone who otherwise did not have an American friend outside the house. The Iraqi woman already has two kids and is expecting a third which made her social life limited to her fellow Assyrian friends, her husband, me and my partner, Nicole.
Unlike any other class at Loyola, refugee resettlement was most useful and lucrative outside of the classroom for the majority of this semester. Though vital information on how to go about befriending and class discussion on what we as students have been personally feeling (nervousness and awkwardness) was necessary for the first few classes, much of the curriculum and service learning was on our own time. This class as well as the befriending program has taught me responsibility, my value as a friend and how much I take for granted having been born in this country.
Investing time and emotion into a relationship with a person who has been through as much as any refugee/asylum seeker is a very delicate process for which I feel my class has been adequately trained and exposed to successfully. Taking more time out of our lives than what the typical class requires to clock in 30 hours minimum with someone of a different culture, who may or may not speak English well enough to express themselves, is a dedication I am grateful to have.
In the future, Nicole and I have decided to continue visiting our refugee family after one English lesson in particular, the Assyrian woman was being taught how to use the vocabulary, “early,” “on time,” “late,” “forever,” and “always.” She then formulated the sentence, “Always me help with Nicole and Samantha.” Though her English is still broken and we have a long way to go before she is ready to take her American citizenship test, she was able to express, with our help, how important we are to her life in America and the lives of the family she is responsible for.
From the references used in class by Mary Pipher and Behnia, I was able to go into this stranger’s home and tread lightly around subjects that may or may not be comfortable topics of conversation, be straight forward when called to with setting boundaries and, quite honestly I wish I had such guidelines for the rest of my social life in college. A healthy foundation for befriending work leads to fruitful and rewarding situations with mutually beneficial results, such as the family me and my partner have been working with.
You don’t always have to talk; English isn’t a common language in this household anyway, so finding something to converse about was not a pressure we faced. Listening was the most important thing we could do. Listening to the needs of our refugee family and establishing what we could and could not help with and always coming through on promises, despite how minute they seem to us. I learned more so in this class than in my 23 years that my word is my bond as a person and sometimes reputation, credentials, studiousness and politeness have no weight at all. During one visit, her pregnancy came up as a topic she volunteered to speak on and she mentioned how difficult this baby will be to deliver as opposed to her other two children (who were born in Iraq) because her mother will not be present. As an example of being helpless to the needs of our refugee other than to just be present and listen, this prepared me and Nicole for future situations which we would not be able to help other than to lend a shoulder and keep our ears open.
I believe service learning is the most beneficial way to go about anthropological and sociological fieldwork and equipped with the proper befriending tools of knowledge, the mission of befriending takes off on its own with little effort after the initial meeting. Though we do not often find ourselves contemplating what makes a friendship meaningful, I found this out during this semester and look forward to making a difference in more refugees’ lives, even before they reach the US border. Recently, we were able to celebrate receiving green cards in the mail at the family’s residence and I look forward to decoding American culture with her, becoming an important figure in her children’s maturing and take one step at a time to getting American citizenship.

Works cited
Pipher, Mary (2002) The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community. New York: Harcourt.

Haines, David W. (2010) Safe Haven? A History of Refugees in America. Kumarian Press, Sterling, VA.

Behnia, Behnam (2008) An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees: The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies 5(3):1-19.

Reflection #3

Before this class, my understanding of social justice would have probably been much more idealistic. As I’ve made the journey through my pre-nursing classes ideas of equality and basic human rights have been hammered into my head by some of the most intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve ever met. And while I appreciate these lessons, nothing has taught me more about social justice than the hands on experience I acquired through this class. This is the first chance I’ve had to practice both pillars of social justice at the same time.
I probably couldn’t have completely explained what it is that made this class so unique until the conversation we had in the second to last class, with guest speaker, travis Proffitt. In particular, I really liked the metaphor using legs to explain social justice. One foot represents the immediate hand-on response to the physical and emotional needs of people. In Refugee Resettlement this is when our partners meet up with families in order to help them with a variety of things, such as homework, navigating public transportation and understanding American culture. The goal of befriending is to fill a void in their support systems that occurs when they are uprooted from everything they’ve ever known. The second foot of social justice involves a lot of question asking and critical thinking. In Refugee Resettlement, this usually is sparked by deep classroom conversations, but the thoughts often extend into the late hours of the night. No government system is without fault. We use the resources afforded to us by Loyola to analyze the refugee resettlement and befriending programs. And finally, to synthesize these two aspects, the metaphor of two aspects continues. If you only use one leg you aren’t going to be nearly as stable as if you put equal weight on both feet. If you just ask questions of bigger picture inequalities, you won’t meet some of the urgent needs that populations like refugees have. At the same time, without considering larger meaning, explanations and implications, you won’t be able to eliminate to initial problems. And most importantly, you need two feet in order to move forward and promote progress. While so many of my questions have been answered through this class and the experiences it brought about, I can’t say that all of them have. But that is the final important aspect of taking part in social justice. You can never be satisfied with the status quo. You have to push for change. Unfortunately, this is especially true when it comes to human rights. Using both your hands and your head comes in great use, particularly with the refugee population here in America.
It’s surprisingly easy to overlook social justice issues here in America, here in our own backyard. We often think so highly of our own country relative to the problems in other places. But not only is that ignorant but its selfish. But we often forget that as humans we are all connected and all responsible for one another. Just because we don’t put people in these horrible positions doesn’t mean it isn’t our duty to help get them out. In all honesty, I can say that before the class I didn’t even truly know the definition of the term refugee. Thankfully, that has changed. Over the course of this semester, I have learned of the impact of both aspects social justice and just how important it can be to someone. The challenges refugees face are extensive. And those don’t disappear just because they get chosen to be resettled. From breaking through the “paper walls”, to navigating a completely new country, often not even knowing the native language. This is where the befriending program comes into play.
Through out this semester we as a class have been a part of the struggles and limitations of befriending. Often, as unqualified English teachers, we face challenges in communicating with the families. Some of their questions we can’t even answer. But the reality is that this is a problem refugees face one way or another. At least this way, we are attacking the problem head on, together. This teamwork is more valuable than I even initially realized. At the beginning of the semester, my focus was on the tangible knowledge and things I could give them. But it became about more than me helping them. Working together was a way of honoring what we all share in common as human beings. It is about building a mutually beneficial and enjoyable relationship. When you reach your hand out to this new family, you are providing the foundation for a much deeper relationship. And that can mean the world to someone who just lost everything. But it can also end up meaning the world to you.
But taking part social justice involves going beyond charity. The world of refugees needs changing. Even now, there is a huge crisis going on in Syria. Activism and brain power fuel the progress we crave. Even if you go into the semester with nothing but doubts and skepticism, I am certain you would learn something. Refugees are just as much our teachers as the people who lecture from the front of the classroom. We empower them to do this by giving them a voice and that is what social justice is all about in the context of refugees.

the middle

The article An Exploratory Study of Befriending Programs with Refugees:  The Perspective of Volunteer Organizations by Behnam Behnia provides an insight into the experience of befriending programs.  Several of the issues that Behnia describes, I have been facing in my own experiences in our befriending program.          While my relationship with the family is just beginning, I feel not as engaged as I could be.  I think there are a few factors that contribute to this.

My befriending family lives in Rogers Park in an apartment. The family is from Bhutan.  Their first country of refuge for them was Nepal.  The girls speak Nepalese.  Bhutan is a small land-locked country in Southeast Asia.    I visit them with two other Loyola students, one other guy and a girl.   The family consists of both parents and three daughters. The daughters range in age from fifteen to a toddler in age.  Both parents work.  We have only met the daughters.  I spend time with the oldest girls reviewing homework and practicing English. The older girl’s English skills are limited creating a significant barrier in communication. With the youngest we spoke English and colored with pencils and paper.

I entered the relationship really knew nothing of either the family or their history.  I knew very little of the history of Bhutan and Nepal.  Behnia, notes in the article that organizations can have a difficult time in retaining volunteers because of a disconnect between the volunteer and the refugee.  To feel more comfortable with the family I have reviewed some history of Bhutan and the refugee crisis.  I was shocked at the relative little publicity this situation has received.

                        The majority of the Bhutanese people are of Ngalops and Sharcops, who are from Western and Eastern region.  In the south of Bhutan the majority of the population was Lhotshampa and is of Nepali descent.  In 1988, these southern made up forty-five percent of the population of Bhutan.  During the late 1980’s the government forced this ethnic group to leave Bhutan.  It is possible that the government felt that this group was the fastest growing ethnic group in Bhutan and would shortly become the majority population over the Tibetan Mayahan Buddhist culture.  The expelled population was forced to leave behind their land and belongings.  In addition, they were forced to renounce their citizenship making them a stateless people.     UNHCR claims that more than 107,000 Bhutanese refugees are living seven camps in Nepal as of 2008.    Now these refugees are moving to host countries, primarily Canada, Norway, United Kingdom and the United States.  The United States has admitted 30,870 Refugees from 2008 to 2010.   There are about 1000 Bhutanese refugee families in Chicago most in Rogers Park.  Since the girls only speak Nepalese, I assume that they have spent a long time in one of the Nepal camps.  This information has added to my confidence in dealing with the girls.  I understand the path of how they came to Chicago.  I also now understand why Nepalese is their first language, especially for the oldest who has probably spent most of her childhood in a camp.  It also makes me feel more comfortable with them knowing that there is a community with which they can interact in the neighborhood and especially in the schools.

            Since our only contact with the family is with the children.  In my reading I discovered that Bhutan is a mostly rural country with a really low level of literacy.  Even with the older girl’s limited English proficiency, school work is their main focus when we visit.  Education seems to have become a very important value.  Our value to them, I think, is help in completing

what i learned

Social justice exists in a society where each human being is treated equally and with dignity.  This is obviously an ideal and one which should be supported by service.  As a student in a Jesuit institution, service and commitment is part of our education.  I entered the befriending program with the hope of not only serving but to help in the cause of social justice

            The definition which Harrell-Bond uses of refugee as a people who are “forced to flee their homes because they did not ‘belong’…” is the opposite of social justice.   A group of people are violently torn from their familiar surroundings and forced to leave all that they know.  This violent separation is what differentiates a refugee from an immigrant.  An immigrant chooses the time and conditions under which they leave and where they go, while a refugee is forced to leave and has little option about where to go.  The poorest states host the greatest number of refugees burdening their existing system (Harrell-Bond).  The host countries are usually forced to support the large group of refugees due to geographic location.  Like the refugees the host countries are in their position not by choice.  The refugees arrive often as a result of violence or natural disaster with little resources (Lubkeman).  Both the refugees and the host countries become dependent on a large part of their existence on either foreign aid or aid from NGOs.  A complex situation arises where a “permanent welfare” evolves (Harrell-Bond).  Part of the problem is conflicting demands.  The refugees and host countries need the money and support but because of their dependent situation the suppliers are able to create demands and conditions.  The dispaportionate involvement of the poorer countries with the refugee problem is a blatant contradiction of social justice.  While the refugee crisis is ongoing and  difficult all countries but especially those with a greater economic resource should be involved in refugee crises.  The refugee problem can even overwhelm relatively stable economies.  The influx of African refugees to Italy is creating huge problems for the Italian government as their economy is struggling.

            What may have been an honest attempt to enter in this relationship both to serve the refugees and create social justice is often overwhelmed by unspoken conditions and misunderstanding.  For example if a group provides school books who is responsible for subject matter.  Is the gift of the books a service if they are Christian Bible stories to Muslim population or even secular stories of American patriotism to other countries?  Both the giver and receiver may feel frustrated by the lack of understanding.  The concept of both service and social justice can be complicated by the point of view of both the giver and receiver.

            America is a country of immigrants.  The large wave of refugees first came to America during and after World War II.   These refugees were typically white and European.  My own grandmother as a child was a refugee from Italy during World War II.  These refugees were not that different from the American population which was made up of immigrants from those same countries.  In addition, America was fighting the forces from which these people were fleeing.  They shared, in general a common heritage with the communities into which they immigrated.  In the book, Safe Haven these are “good immigrants” (85).Now the refugees which the American sees are drastically different.  As seen in the films Lost Boys of Sudan, and Welcome to Shelbyville these refugees are a different race, color and culture than the communities into which they are joining.  They come from areas in which America is not involved with and which most people know little about.  They bring different religions and customs. They are fleeing situations such as the Congolese wars that have been going on for generations and are peripheral to most American’s daily life. Their Islamic or African background does not have a common denominator with the traditional American culture making it difficult even in the best of situations to understand each other.     Before my encounter with my befriending family, I had no idea that there were Bhutanese refugees.  The children of my family go to public Chicago schools which are probably great for them because there are other Bhutanese children and a very diverse population. This experience is significantly different then if they were located in a small town. While ideally each of these refugees should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity it can be very difficult to not only accept different cultures but to support and help them

            The arrival of large populations can create an element of fear in the community.  The refugees enter the community and can have significant economic effects on the community.  These can be especially harsh in community such as Shelbyville with limited resources.  In Lubekeman’s article he notes that with a large influx of refugees the price for labor often decreases which affects all workers in the community.  In addition, there is an additional strain on both public and social support.  This makes it difficult for a community suffering such strain to accept these new people. A good befriending program could circumvent some of these issues.

            A befriending program allows close, intimate contact with another culture.  It allows a point person to navigate both the issues the refugee faces and to help the greater community understand the plight of the refugees.  While I had every intention to serve I think my befriending experience fell short. I definitely did not expect an intimate relationship with the family or  for them to share details of their life but I had the feeling our group was more committed  to the program then the family was.  I think this may reflect our age, to the family we probably seemed more appropriate companions to the children.  For the adults, I don’t think we could offer much.  We have no experience with the intricacies of working with government agencies.  Behnam Behnia’s article. An Exploratory Study of befriending Programs with Refugees The Prospective of Volunteer Organizations, he describes these problems.  He notes that while I am a volunteer the refugee is probably not a volunteer and the befriending program may be a condition of other programs.  This befriending program is essentially as he notes is “arranged” and like all arranged relationships sometimes it works  and sometimes it  doesn’t.  I think for are family the befriending program was not a very important part of their life.  Part of the reason maybe the temporary nature of the relationship. I suspect that they have had college befrienders before and realize the relationship is temporary and will not be either in depth or for long term.  The family understands that we have limited time and resources so are value

Social justice exists in a society where each human being is treated equally and with dignity.  This is obviously an ideal and one which should be supported by service.  As a student in a Jesuit institution, service and commitment is part of our education.  I entered the befriending program with the hope of not only serving but to help in the cause of social justice

            The definition which Harrell-Bond uses of refugee as a people who are “forced to flee their homes because they did not ‘belong’…” is the opposite of social justice.   A group of people are violently torn from their familiar surroundings and forced to leave all that they know.  This violent separation is what differentiates a refugee from an immigrant.  An immigrant chooses the time and conditions under which they leave and where they go, while a refugee is forced to leave and has little option about where to go.  The poorest states host the greatest number of refugees burdening their existing system (Harrell-Bond).  The host countries are usually forced to support the large group of refugees due to geographic location.  Like the refugees the host countries are in their position not by choice.  The refugees arrive often as a result of violence or natural disaster with little resources (Lubkeman).  Both the refugees and the host countries become dependent on a large part of their existence on either foreign aid or aid from NGOs.  A complex situation arises where a “permanent welfare” evolves (Harrell-Bond).  Part of the problem is conflicting demands.  The refugees and host countries need the money and support but because of their dependent situation the suppliers are able to create demands and conditions.  The dispaportionate involvement of the poorer countries with the refugee problem is a blatant contradiction of social justice.  While the refugee crisis is ongoing and  difficult all countries but especially those with a greater economic resource should be involved in refugee crises.  The refugee problem can even overwhelm relatively stable economies.  The influx of African refugees to Italy is creating huge problems for the Italian government as their economy is struggling.

            What may have been an honest attempt to enter in this relationship both to serve the refugees and create social justice is often overwhelmed by unspoken conditions and misunderstanding.  For example if a group provides school books who is responsible for subject matter.  Is the gift of the books a service if they are Christian Bible stories to Muslim population or even secular stories of American patriotism to other countries?  Both the giver and receiver may feel frustrated by the lack of understanding.  The concept of both service and social justice can be complicated by the point of view of both the giver and receiver.

            America is a country of immigrants.  The large wave of refugees first came to America during and after World War II.   These refugees were typically white and European.  My own grandmother as a child was a refugee from Italy during World War II.  These refugees were not that different from the American population which was made up of immigrants from those same countries.  In addition, America was fighting the forces from which these people were fleeing.  They shared, in general a common heritage with the communities into which they immigrated.  In the book, Safe Haven these are “good immigrants” (85).Now the refugees which the American sees are drastically different.  As seen in the films Lost Boys of Sudan, and Welcome to Shelbyville these refugees are a different race, color and culture than the communities into which they are joining.  They come from areas in which America is not involved with and which most people know little about.  They bring different religions and customs. They are fleeing situations such as the Congolese wars that have been going on for generations and are peripheral to most American’s daily life. Their Islamic or African background does not have a common denominator with the traditional American culture making it difficult even in the best of situations to understand each other.     Before my encounter with my befriending family, I had no idea that there were Bhutanese refugees.  The children of my family go to public Chicago schools which are probably great for them because there are other Bhutanese children and a very diverse population. This experience is significantly different then if they were located in a small town. While ideally each of these refugees should be treated with the utmost respect and dignity it can be very difficult to not only accept different cultures but to support and help them

            The arrival of large populations can create an element of fear in the community.  The refugees enter the community and can have significant economic effects on the community.  These can be especially harsh in community such as Shelbyville with limited resources.  In Lubekeman’s article he notes that with a large influx of refugees the price for labor often decreases which affects all workers in the community.  In addition, there is an additional strain on both public and social support.  This makes it difficult for a community suffering such strain to accept these new people. A good befriending program could circumvent some of these issues.

            A befriending program allows close, intimate contact with another culture.  It allows a point person to navigate both the issues the refugee faces and to help the greater community understand the plight of the refugees.  While I had every intention to serve I think my befriending experience fell short. I definitely did not expect an intimate relationship with the family or  for them to share details of their life but I had the feeling our group was more committed  to the program then the family was.  I think this may reflect our age, to the family we probably seemed more appropriate companions to the children.  For the adults, I don’t think we could offer much.  We have no experience with the intricacies of working with government agencies.  Behnam Behnia’s article. An Exploratory Study of befriending Programs with Refugees The Prospective of Volunteer Organizations, he describes these problems.  He notes that while I am a volunteer the refugee is probably not a volunteer and the befriending program may be a condition of other programs.  This befriending program is essentially as he notes is “arranged” and like all arranged relationships sometimes it works  and sometimes it  doesn’t.  I think for are family the befriending program was not a very important part of their life.  Part of the reason maybe the temporary nature of the relationship. I suspect that they have had college befrienders before and realize the relationship is temporary and will not be either in depth or for long term.  The family understands that we have limited time and resources so are value

Social Justice- Empowering and Advocating

Social justice is often defined as “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” Throughout the Refugee Resettlement course and my service learning of befriending a refugee family, I have learned more than I ever thought I would know about social justice. Social justice is not simply about offering your services, but it is more importantly about empowering, advocating, and eventually bringing dignity back to a community that has persevered in the face of injustice.

The United Nations has strong control over who is considered a refugee and who is not. In the UN’s terms, a refugee is “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” Refugees share a “well-founded fear of persecution” based on race, religion, nationality, social group, or political group (Shandy 346).  In order to be granted refugee status or resettlement, the bureaucracy must deem you a “real refugee,” and decide whether or not you can be repatriated into your former country, be integrated into your country of asylum, or lastly, be resettled to another country.

The resettlement process in the United States requires various steps and is highly dependent on what happened to your families and friends and the political circumstances in your former country. The resettlement steps include filling out applications, being interviewed to gain refugee status, having your passport revoked, being put on a flight to U.S., having a case file prepared, being interviewed face-to-face by the Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship Immigration Services. After this, ten other agencies review the case and conduct interviews. If approved, the case is sent to the Refugee Placement Center and the Center for Disease control performs medical screenings. Finally, International Office of Migration organizes travel and refugees are picked up by their respective Volunteer Agencies.

There are approximately 15.4 million refugees worldwide, yet only 60,000 get resettled in America every year. Other countries such as Australia, Canada, and European countries resettle 60,000 refugees a year combined. Refugees around the world can be in camps anywhere from five to twenty years. Living conditions in camps can be very tough and crowded. My refugee family, the Ahmed’s, lived in a camp in Hong Kong for only 3 years. However, in the movie, The Lost Boys of Sudan, many boys had been in camps since they were 5 or 6 years old and were not resettled to the United States until they were in their early twenties. After living in a camp, refugees face another challenge, integrating into a new culture and society.

Adjusting to a new country is very difficult. There is a new language, new streets,new food, new behavior, and new people. “Refugees often go through a violent ‘rite’of separation and unless or until they are incorporated as citizens into their host state orreturned to their state of origin, they find themselves in transition or in a state of“liminality.” this “betwixt and between” status may not only be legal and psychological, but social and economic as well. Moreover, encoded in the label ‘refugee’ are the imagesof dependency helplessness and misery (Harrel-Bond 7). Stereotypes like these that are associated with refugee labels are one of the greatest challenges of the international community, today. It’s important not to be patronizing to refugees, like we saw in The Lost Boys, when families were treating refugees like children. Refugees are often educated and have been through a lot. I learned how important it is to empower my refugee family during my visits.

Some Refugees take ESL classes to learn English, and some come to a new country already fluent in the language. A few students in class befriended families who had one member or two that didn’t speak English. Usually this family member was tan elder man or woman. In some cases language is power, so the students were asked to encourage refugees to learn so they get excited, again. Being cultural brokers is one of the first steps you can take to empower Refugees.

At first, the children, Ali, Aliyah, and Abeer, were shy about speaking English to me. It was their third language and I could see why they would be nervous to mess up words. A few days we went to the library and the kids would pick out books to read. They read very well and saying a little positive feedback would make their faces light up. By befriending, I learned not only about a different culture, but also about my own, strange American culture. I never knew how many things us Americans do that seem questionable, such as always being preoccupied with something. Whether Americans are watching TV, playing on their phone, or on the internet-we constantly need to be doing something! My refugee family taught me the pleasure of simply being, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. I learned how to play Somali games, say various words in Cantonese (since my family lived in Hong Kong, and enjoyed numerous cups of tea. Befriending not only pushed me out of my comfort zone, but by sharing their culture with me, the Ahmed’s were empowering themselves.

Along with empowering, another important aspect in social justice is advocating. We had many guest speakers come in and talk about their experiences spreading the word about refugees and their stories. Sometimes Americans have the wrong perceptions of refugees. In the film, Welcome to Shelbyville, we saw examples of how refugees can be treated by Americans, for example the local radio show and newspapers were portraying Somalis as unhygienic and confrontational. They were also disrespecting the Somalis for being Muslim. Some people in America can be very xenophobic, and it’s important to inform others about who refugees are and how we can be welcoming towards them. Educating others plays social justice.

My understanding about social justice has changed after taking this class and participating in service learning. I have learned not to be a passive bystander, but instead, and active participant. I have learned it is that social justice is not about personal fulfillment or immediate action. The road to social justice is long and winding one. I learned it is my classmates’ and my job is to inform others about refugees and to advocate on their behalf. We need to stand up for refugees when somebody makes an ill-informed comment about them or complains about them “taking all of the jobs.” We need to teach our friends and family about who refugees are. In turn, we should urge our government to implement better programs for refugees. Befriending is the first step to this journey, but there is still a long way to go in order to bring justice to this incredible community. Most importantly, I’ve learned to recognize beauty of our interconnectedness and embrace the diversity we find both between and within each other.



Getting to Know Each Other

The UN defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so.” Asides from just “stateless people,” refugees are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, fighters, teachers, and of course, friends. Throughout my past few months as a refugee befriender, I have learned a great deal about befriending goals, practices, and experiences among refugees.

As Margaret Pipher’s book title suggests, refugees are often resettled in “The Middle of Everywhere.” From Lincoln, Nebraska to Chicago, IL, these refugees’ stories are not so different from each other as we would think. I was introduced to the Ahmeds*, a Somali family from Mogadishu, last March and reconnected with them in the fall. The Ahmeds are a family of a father, a son (13), and two daughters (8 and 9). My befriending goals with the Ahmeds mainly consisted of acting as a cultural broker and being helpful with the family’s adjustment to American society. “In their country of resettlement, refugees often face the challenge of coming to terms with their past traumatic experiences and dealing with the difficulties of adjusting to a new society” (Behnia 1). Often unrealistic goals can hinder relationships between befrienders and refugees, so my main goal was to be helpful and supportive, to be a friend.

During the first meeting with the Ahmeds, my partner and I talked about our families, asked questions, and smiled… a lot. Both parties were in an unfamiliar situation, nonetheless curious about the other’s life, language, and culture. My partner and I learned never to underestimate the power of a deck of cards. We enjoyed playing Somali card games/magic tricks and teaching the family “SLAP!” and “Go Fish.” When cards grew old, we helped the children with homework. After a few visits, soon we were helping solve the family’s link-card issues, reading books at the library, playing basketball, and flying paper-airplanes around the apartment.

The practice of mutually learning about each other’s culture can be beneficial, not to mention, lots of fun! With the Ahmeds, we employed this technique by playing a game where we draw pictures with the kids and telling them what the object was called in English, in turn the Ahmeds would tell us what the object was in Somali. It is a win-win situation, since both groups “get to know the other.” Different languages lead to questions about traditions, religious practices, food, music, and more. Often there was nothing to talk about- but soon the American-coined “awkward silence” would turn to simply a quiet moment of enjoying each other’s company. The refugees do not only teach us about their culture, but about our own American culture, as well.

Different cultures have different culturally learned expectations of acceptable behavior and how things are done. These expectations vary from ideas about time/punctuality, greetings/personal space, friendship/privacy, and autonomy/privacy. What stood out the most to me are the distinctive understandings of time in the U.S. perspective and in the refugee perspective. In the U.S. time is monochromic. Time is not a commodity; people should be on time and time should not be wasted. However, in polychromic countries, there is always more time. People are not busy and schedules are always subject to change. The refugee concept of time first struck me when I was asking the father of the family what he liked and disliked about the U.S. He said he liked how helpful everyone was and how much opportunity there was in this country. However, he said he disliked how people are “so busy.” He mentioned he could easily call his friend in Somalia and he would answer his phone and chat with him, but in the U.S., people would not answer a phone call or be able to meet up on short notice. I realized then what a slaves to the clock we are in the U.S. As Mary Pipher puts it, “Americans think it’s a waste of time to do nothing” (Pipher 46).

I can draw many parallels with Mary Piphers book, “In the Middle of Nowhere” and my own befriending work through Catholic Charities and this class. Another passage of the book that reminded me of the Ahmeds, was her section on customs and practices across cultures. In the U.S., children are often individual and sometimes selfish. From many refugee countries, children respect their parents to a great extent, are obedient, and loving. “Children depend on their parents for emotional support and moral guidance” (Pipher 226). In the Ahmeds family, the children are respectful and do what they are told. Time will tell how the father-child relationship will play out during major milestones of the children’s lives such as high school, graduation, and more. The refugee experience for a child is very different than the experience of an adult, since he or she is becoming immersed in two cultures during development years.

I have learned so much from this class and from my befriending experience. I’ve learned about Somalian culture, what it takes to adjust to a new culture, challenges in doing so, and surprisingly, learned plenty about my own culture. I look forward to continuing this partnership, and I believe this experience will help me learn more, and ultimately become a better person.