by Gloria Colvin, IRC Team Member
News reports about refugees in volatile parts of the world often seem distant, but opportunities to help refugees rebuild their lives are close to home. Through Trinity’s Local Missions Committee, a team of volunteers led by Daniel Diaz began meeting last spring and agreed to co-sponsor a refugee family along with the local International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is one of a number of NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) in the U.S. that aids in refugee resettlement and provides training for volunteers willing to assist in this process. Trinity team members went through extensive training, background checks, and other certifications in order to work directly with the refugee family. As co-sponsors, our commitments included providing some financial support, furnishing an apartment, enrolling family members in English classes and schools, applying for Social Security cards, transporting them to medical appointments, familiarizing them with Tallahassee’s bus system, and helping them transition to life in Tallahassee.
After weeks of preparation, we welcomed the Albadawe family in mid-June, and team members spent the summer getting to know the family and helping them get settled in Tallahassee. It’s difficult to imagine having to leave your home, your country, and all that is familiar, knowing that you won’t be able to return. For the Albadawe family this became a reality when they fled their native war-torn Syria for Jordan. Refugee resettlement can be a long process, and the Albadawe family lived with family members in Jordan for several years before arriving in the U.S. In moving to a country where the language and culture are unfamiliar, they’ve demonstrated tremendous courage, fortitude, and resilience.
“The Albadawe family’s bravery in coming to a new country to start life over without knowing the language, or even the alphabet, is awe-inspiring.” Cindy Phillips Donelan
“I can’t imagine the many difficulties that moving to another country and not knowing the language presents. Being able to be the known thing in a world of chaos for this family has been a truly rewarding and humbling experience. I have become even more aware of my privilege and abundance and it has increased my desire to give generously in all aspects of my life.” Rachael Diaz
The Albadawe family is a large family: father Mohamad, mother Fareha, grandmother Malk, and six children, Malak, Aya, Rukaia, Amirah, Yahya, and Noor. Finding affordable housing for such a large family on short notice proved impossible, so the IRC arranged for them to stay temporarily in an extended-stay hotel. Two hotel rooms for nine people made for a difficult and frustrating living environment, but the family managed for two months with patience and grace until they were able to move into more permanent housing.
Team members shared responsibilities for taking the family to medical appointments, a park, grocery stores and pharmacy and helping them learn to use the bus system, pay bills, and look at potential housing options. The family always expressed gratitude and generously offered hospitality to the volunteers. Through these encounters we came to know and love this family and to learn about their culture.
“The Alabadawe family is in a vulnerable position and yet they are so open to our group and offer us hospitality despite having so little. I have this feeling of God’s presence and peace whenever we get together. Their courage inspires me to step outside my comfort zone!” Diane Fogarty
“When we got the message from Daniel that Yahya was running a fever and needed to see the doctor I didn’t hesitate. I imagined myself in a similar situation. How bewildering must America (and the medical care system) seem to a new immigrant family. Despite a long wait the visit went well and after picking up medicine from the pharmacy afterwards, Mohamad invited me up for tea, insisting that I join him. He wanted to thank me with tea, homemade sweet cakes and fruit. I’m not sure who benefitted the most from that day!” Jeff Spraggins
“It’s been such a pleasure getting to know the Albadawe family and sharing the differences and similarities in our cultures. Though they have a large family to feed, their hospitality is always generous.” Cindy Phillips Donelan
As faithful Muslims, family members pray daily and were eager to go to the local mosque. Initially team members took them to the mosque where they made connections with other Arabic-speaking people. On several occasions they went to events sponsored by the local mosque.
“I’ve been so impressed with the humility and graciousness of the Albadawe family. Their faith is very real and apparent. One day when we were driving them to an event hosted by their mosque, I noted to Mohamad that we were following a funeral procession with 6 cars with their lights on, and he said “God blesses us all; those above the ground and those below”. They are always grateful for whatever we do for them and frequently praise God for their blessings.” J. Fogarty
Since public school and adult ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes didn’t begin until August, several team members met regularly with the family to help them learn some basic English. By the time school started, most of the older family members knew the alphabet, numbers, colors, and common greetings; could answer simple questions and complete forms. We learned some Arabic vocabulary, too! Mohamad and Fareha are now taking ESOL classes and five of the children are enrolled in Leon County Schools. Team members act as advocates for the children in the schools and help with homework.
“I worked with the family this summer to help them learn English. It gave me an opportunity to get to know each of them, largely with the help of Google Translate, and we had fun in the process. They are such a sweet and loving family, always so receptive, appreciative, and hospitable. Getting to know them has been such a rewarding experience, and they’ve been a blessing to me.” Gloria Colvin
“We have had the privilege of doing homework with the kids as they have entered their new American schools. As I try to imagine what it must be like for these 5 children to be in schools where they don’t speak the language, where the customs and dress are entirely different, filled with students and teachers who are rapidly speaking this foreign language, I am amazed at their joyful, positive, grateful attitude.” Carol Powell
While the Albadawe family is just beginning their life in America and have a lot of adjustments to make as the parents take jobs and work towards becoming self-sufficient, team members will continue to work with them for another few months. For all team members, this has been a rich and positive experience that has blessed us in many ways.
“Every time I part ways with our client family, I can’t wait to go back again. Working through the challenges of resettlement together is often difficult, but knowing and serving our client has been an absolute joy.” Daniel Diaz
“The Albadawe family continues to teach me with their generous, kind, loving—-and fun nature! What a gift they are to me!”
Plans are for Trinity to welcome a new refugee family in the spring. If you’re interested in being part of our team in the future, please contact the church office.