This is my first blog and I am not completely sure why. I think it was because I had kind of a slow start with my family and I wasn’t sure what to say. Today was our third visit and I definitely felt more comfortable. The first week we went was ok. There was a pastor there at first who translated a bit for us and then we were on our own. We ate and read a few books and helped with homework, but that was it. The second time we went the family wasn’t home and on our third attempt we got a flat tire on the way. Finally last week we managed to catch them at home and spend time with them. This time however was very interesting. There was another volunteer there and she had brought clothes and games so I kind of felt inadequate in aiding them. Her presence there did ease some awkwardness though as she had been visiting them longer. That experience was fun, but it was more interacting with the other volunteer than the refugees themselves. Today was different though. Today we helped with homework and played and read books. In general I think everyone was just more relaxed. I think it will definitely be easier to go back next week.
I was very excited to go to see my family yesterday since I had not been able to see them for nearly two weeks because I had been out of town and then there were communication problems the last time I tried to visit. Today, when I arrived at my family’s apartment, even before entering, from the door, I heard a lot of laughing, talking, and some voices that did not belong to my family. When my family opened the door, I saw that they had two guests over: a friendly Nepali man, who turned out to be a friend from the ECAC, and a younger boy, who turned out to be a cousin. I didn’t know that my family had other relatives in Chicago and I was surprised that I had never even thought to ask! I had never seen my family so lively and talkative before. The mother was laughing and poking fun of her guests, the younger daughter who is normally quiet was joking with her cousin, and even the father who is very quiet was smiling and said a few words. I was very happy to see this side of my family and to know that they are starting to build a little network of friends and family in Chicago.
I had brought along a few CTA day passes for the family and hoped to take the family out on an outing yesterday. I suggested either the zoo or the library. The family friend, who has been in Chicago for a year, said the zoo would be more fun. The family friend really impressed me with how well he understood the CTA; he knew which buses and trains to get anywhere in Chicago and before I could whip out my iPhone to find directions to the zoo, he had told me. He told me that he used to buy a CTA day pass and just ride around on days he didn’t have work to better understand Chicago; his motivation and eagerness to learn were really good to see. And so, at his suggestion, my family bundled up to head to the zoo. The mother stayed home though because she wanted to keep entertaining the guests and because she gets motion sickness on buses and trains.
It wasn’t until we were half way to the zoo that I checked my iPhone and found out that the zoo was about to close. I felt terrible that I had gotten my family to come out and now had nowhere to take them. At the last minute, though, I saw that we were heading towards Lincoln Park anyways and remembered one of my favorite cupcake places. I asked my family if they had ever tried a cupcake before and they said no. And so, we kept riding the bus until we reached Molly’s cupcakes. There, the four of us split three cupcakes. The chocolate cupcake was too rich for them, but they really enjoyed the carrot cake cupcake. I tried to tell them that there are many different neighborhoods in Chicago and that we were now in Lincoln Park, an area that is pretty different from both Rogers Park and the other part of Chicago that they’d been to, Downtown. After eating, we grabbed one of the Scrabble games that is often lying around in Molly’s. We didn’t play by the rules (I don’t even play by the rules on my own haha!), and we just dumped the letters onto the board and raced to see who could make the most words. The eldest daughter loved the game and snatched up pieces to make words faster than all of us. The dad was a bit slower but he spelt his name and a few animal names. The younger daughter was also a good sport. The word that she chose to make right away was “family.”
After 3 rounds of fake Scrabble, we grabbed the bus to head home since the mom had called and said she was waiting for them to eat dinner. I hope my family had a good time on our outing even though it didn’t go as planned.
A few months ago, Loyola Refugee Outreach (LRO), our student non-profit organization in support of refugee resettlement gained membership in the Golden Door Coalition (GDC). This formal relationship connects LRO with the network of service-providers and advocates for refugees in Chicago and strengthens our campus organization by making us a partner in the coalition of organizations throughout Illinois who are “committed to the resettlement of refugees in Illinois with dignity and the support necessary to thrive in our nation.” http://www.goldendoorcoalition.org/
From our first-hand experiences we know about the plight of refugees. We value our role as advocates for refugees because we can see how the limited funding provided to this most deserving human population is not nearly enough. Now even this pittance is threatened. Under the recently passed debt-limit deal, Congress will be looking for at least $1.5 trillion in deficit-reduction measures over 10 years. The “Super Committee” of 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans have until November 23 to draft their proposal, which will see an up-or down vote in Congress within a month after that. If the committee deadlocks – and no proposal is ever actually proposed — then $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts will be triggered.
Because of deep concerns about potential cuts for funding of refugee programs, the GDC members agreed that we should urge people to contract their congressional representatives and let them know about our concerns. The GDC recommends sending letters to your congressional representative with the following language:
I am your constituent, and I care about refugees. As you weigh in with the Joint Deficit Reduction Committee, I ask you to show your commitment to constituents like myself who care about refugee assistance and resettlement. Life-saving refugee assistance programs amount to only 1 percent of the federal budget. Cutting this funding will make almost no impact on the federal deficit, but will have tragic consequences for the world’s most vulnerable. Please do not focus deficit reduction efforts on those whose very lives would be in jeopardy with such cuts. There are many other areas where spending cuts can be made.
Sincerely, (include your name and your home address)
You are invited to add personal messages to this letter and it is recommened that you email or fax your letter on blank-white paper to your representative. The deadline is Nov. 23. You can find your congressional representatives and their contact information using various online tools such as http://whoismyrepresentative.com/. America is a generous nation with a long history of welcoming the stranger, especially those who are persecuted. Please take some time to remind our congressional representatives about this shared value that defines us as a nation.