In February 2009, my interest in people from other cultures, my desire to grow deeper in relationship with God, and my love for letting Gods love overflow in me onto the people around me, led me to accept an opportunity to fly 37 hours on a plane to a small village recovering from a Tsunami aftermath in Indonesia. What I learned during that time in my life about the importance of being on the ground with the people has since penetrated in my heart and soul for all of my new refugee friends. The friendships, concern for and love for the people caused me to stretch myself out of my box and go out into their homes to offer additional ESL help but even more, to build stronger friendships so that I could offer real encouragement and hope.
At some point, I was asked to make a house visit to a refugee that had unknown disabilities that would not allow her to physically get herself to important doctors appointments let alone Catholic Charities for english classes. Just as I had stepped onto that plane that would carry me all the way to Indonesia, I got into my car and drove alone to an apartment complex that housed many new refugees and was located in one of Memphis’s largest poverty areas, Binghamton.
Upon arrival, the apartment complex looked very much like the poor and dirty areas of Indonesia I had experienced. It was sad to see that such a dirty apartment living area was the home of my new friends and the “welcome to your new home in America” that they had received.
Refugee child playing
Like many other US citizens, I am opposed to giving everything to people who do not try to help themselves or to immigrants who enter in to America illegally. But, the people I have met are typically not looking for a hand out. They are not interested in sitting around with nothing to do but are eager to find work and successfully resettle their families into America. They are legal and brought into America by United Nations and into Tennessee by the State Department. They’ve been scrutinized and questioned for years by the US Immigration Department while working, praying and waiting in refugee camps for something or someone to help change their situation. They have employment ID’s, Social Security Cards, Immunization Records, ‘A’ Numbers and are legal to work in the US. They are tired of being war-torn, persecuted and living a life of extreme poverty and running towards safety. They need a place of hope, a place to work towards real rest.
I walked through the apartment complex and located Asha’s home. I knocked on the door a few times. The door was not answered immediately, but I knew someone was home because I could hear someone rustling around inside. “Asha? My name is Jamie, I have come to help you” I said on the other side of the door. Finally, the doorknob began to wiggle and the door opened. I was looking for another face somewhere near my eyes level, but there was no one. And then, I looked down. Down at the floor sat a young girl smiling up at me. “Hallo” she said back to me as she motioned for me to come in. It was then that my heart sank. This young girl had her hands fitted into a pair of flip flops and she was pulling her body along as she entered the living room and dragged a chair in position to offer me a seat. I proceded to watch her and was amazed at her strength, at her beautiful face, her eyes and smile and just in awe at how she was showing me hospitality. Asha was wrapped with the typical head scarves and dress of a Somalian lady. Her dress was so long, I couldn’t tell if she had legs at all. I later found out she did have two legs, but they were not functioning legs. Asha had been pinned under the car in a wreck at the age of ten and had never had surgery or anything that repaired the damage to her legs. Since surgery had never been performed, the nerves and muscles in her legs became weak and developed atrophy. She most probably will never walk again. During this and future visits with Asha and her family, I found out that Asha was only 23 trying to raise her two nieces with her 19 year old brother in a country that was very new to them. Asha’s sister, her nieces mother, passed away in Africa when the girls were just babies. Asha has been their mother since she was ten years old.