January 10, 2014
I am a 36 year old American woman of mainly Irish descent. I learned to speak French because of a love of African cultures and of languages in general. I direct a program called "Speaking from the Heart" at Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, NY. It is my own "brain child" and it is still evolving. The program brings together American parishioners and Rochester's refugee population so that they can each learn from, and get to know, the other, and so that the refugees can practice speaking English with patient and sympathetic listeners. It's a small group of participants (about 30 people total), but it is growing and each consecutive get-together improves upon the last.
I also do intake interviews for any refugee applying for employment services at the Catholic Family Center: Refugee, Immigration, and Language Services Department. That means, I conduct the initial interview when a refugee asks CFC for help finding a job. I make note of their education, work history, language skills, longterm goals and I do a quick check of their finances to be sure they are not facing a major financial crisis.
In my personal life, some of my best friends are refugees from Africa. I see what life is like for them here in the US and I feel called to do something about it. I want to reduce their isolation mainly. I think a lot of the problems of refugees in Rochester will fall by the wayside if more Americans can serve as cultural mentors to them.
I want to explain to more Americans that, by serving others, I have reaped bountifully myself. Refugees have taught me how to cook and how to speak French. They have given me first hand accounts of the politics and oppression happening in their countries. They've shared their friendship with me, and, honestly, they taught me social skills (I was too studious in high school and college and I missed the boat in that regard). In a society where we so rarely have time for each other, refugees had time for me. I owe them a lot and I am determined to pay their kindness "forward!"