Friends Scholarship

Man Once Had a Friend

Pet food – the shelter requires several tens of kilos of food every day. Vaccines, medicine and veterinary care – all animals in the shelter are medically examined, vaccinated and sterilised.

May 26, 2012

Central African RepublicThe first we will deliver to is from the Central African Republic. This family of nine is shares a moderately sized 3-bedroom apartment. The apartment is bare except for the basics needed to sleep and some and other living essentials. This family left their home nation because of war and conflict. They moved to Cameron for two years but found the working and living environment to be extremely difficult. There was education available for the older children. The only job available for women was typically cleaning. The father is deceased so the mother and older female children manage the several young children. They are fortunate to have a relative in the complex who helps in caring for the children. Two of the family members plan on entering school in August. The older children are too young to start. Their tight space is in need of furniture for storage such as dressers. They are also in need of a tire repair kit for the preschooler’s bike.

Iranian FlagThe next family we will visit is from Iran. This family of three lives in a second story apartment. This family consists of a husband, wife, and middle school aged daughter. They are from a small minority in Iran that suffers persecution. The conditions for being allowed to work, go to school, or do anything to further oneself were so intolerable that they fled to Turkey where they stayed for nearly two years. Conditions in Turkey were better, but there were still strict rules and regulations in order to access work. In Iran, the father was a mechanic. He continued this work in Turkey on a much smaller scale. The mother has a passion for learning English and is very excited to get a TV for this purpose. The daughter is about to enter middle school. She could use school supplies. Although they are new to area, they have a passion for exploring. They would love to acquire some adult bicycles for the family to assist in their exploration.

2012 Prom Recap

Prom: the quintessential right-of-passage event reserved for high school seniors (and the lucky, popular juniors) nationwide. A night of limousines, rented tuxedos and more fun than most parents would ever want to hear about; for most, the prom marks the end of an era and the start of new beginnings. However, most remember prom as a night where everyone, regardless of who they were, their backgrounds, their cliques, their groups, mingled and mixed together and had an amazing time.

An amalgam of people laughing, fraternizing and enjoying a fun-filled night was the goal of The Welcome to America Project’s 2012 prom and it was a clear and apparent success.

Interestingly (and rather fortuitously), I ended up inviting and filling my table with all of my high school friends. These were the same people I attended prom with in the spring of 2003 and I knew it would be a great time. I was beyond elated when everyone agreed to attend as I knew from previous experience that the WTAP prom offers a fantastic opportunity, year after year, for groups of friends to come relive their own prom experience (or try prom for the first time). The major difference is that tickets, dresses and corsages were purchased to support not a school but a common and noteworthy cause.

The programming was captivating and led seamlessly by Channel 12’s James Quinones. Between his lively persona and banter between WTAP’s Executive Director Megan O’Connor, the night was certainly full of laughs. Megan’s own admission of her disastrous prom experience had the audience smiling endlessly and was a welcome addition.
James Quiñones and Megan O'Connor

Perhaps the most poignant part of the night was Alexis Niragira’s touching story of his journey to the United States and how WTAP helped him acclimate and assimilate. It was this story that really conveyed just how powerful the welcome can be and how absolutely vital The Welcome to America Project is to this population. I’ll admit, there was not a dry-eye at my table.

Of course the best part of the evening was seeing everyone let loose and enjoy themselves. Patrons and refugees alike moved from table to table, mingled and danced and the night brought together so many different backgrounds and cultures under the guise and premise of neighborly understanding mixed in with fun.

As a proud member of The Welcome to America Project’s Board of Directors, I was so elated to have my closest friends share in WTAP’s mission and get to see the impact this wonderful organization has on Phoenix’s refugees. The prom does a great job showcasing all that we work so tirelessly to achieve and is the signature event that not only strives for a fun-filled evening but to bring awareness to an organization that is truly one-of-a-kind. Hopefully patrons had as much fun as I did and were moved and prompted to sign up to volunteer or donate. If anything, I bet everyone who was there Saturday night are already waiting for their invitations for next year.

May 5, 2012

Iraqi FlagThe first family we will deliver to is from Iraq, where one of their sons was personally threatened because of his work with a church. The civil war in Iraq made life for them very difficult and unsafe. The family of 3 traveled to the U.S. via Jordan where they lived for the last year and two months. They were not permitted to work in Jordan, so they applied for the Refugee program and are enthusiastic about their life in the United States. The father has a brother who settled in Phoenix earlier and they were fortunate enough to also travel with the son whom was threatened and resettle in Phoenix together. Prior to retirement, the father had worked as an office secretary and as a typist. The mother has been a homemaker. They have one son who has an electrician’s certificate from Iraq and whom also worked as a secretary and as a security guard.

Iraqi FlagThe next family is from Iraq via Jordan and then the United States. This 3rd floor, near staircase, two bedroom apartment was well kept and neat. This moderately young couple with a young toddler son spent slightly over a year in Jordan as a refugee from Iraq. Jordanian law prevents refugees from working and so the environment for them was very tough. Both parents being former teachers, they left Iraq when media reports began to threaten people who worked at churches, or specifically their church. They felt the environment terribly unsafe although they had been teachers for this church sponsored educational facility for years. Father taught both math and language to very young elementary students, while mother taught older kids Arabic. As the church was under threat, their lives were largely based through the church as it is where they both worked, and the place where their continuing education was sponsored. Although they are extremely recent arrivals to the USA they are both very appreciative and like the environment so far. Father speaks solid English and he is teaching the rest of the family including very friendly son. They are fortunate enough to have family members that live locally here in the United States. They stated the climate is similar to Iraq in Arizona but have yet to experience our famous summers.

Bhutanese FlagThe final family we will deliver to is from Bhutan via Nepal and then the United States. Their first floor apartment is moderate in size but has easy access to parking lot. This moderately young couple has a middle school aged son and an early elementary aged daughter. Daughter looks a couple years under her age. Family has experienced a tough journey as they were refugees in Nepal for 20 years. Mother and Father arrived in Nepal as young school age children and lived nearly the entirety of their lives there. Like many refugee camps access to betterment of their lives was limited. Although permitted to have small businesses out of their homes, access to normal working conditions is limited. Children however are educated in this refugee camp. Extremely recent arrivals to the USA, they are finding the overwhelming nature of all the changes very difficult. Their sparse apartment is in need of furniture and all the regular household items. Young daughter first question upon arrival was where are the toys? She requested big toys. She was outgoing and very kind. Son had a real passion for a bicycle as this will allow him to explore. Father has experience in construction and mother is largely a stay at home mother. Children might wait until August to enroll in school as school year is nearly finished in Phoenix. With AC non operable when we visited and no window screens, there is some legitimate concern about weather coming soon. Boy needs all the trappings of a soon to be teen, and girl needs all the toys/items of a fairly new elementary student. Mother is lucky enough to not only have her parents living in complex, but several extended family members. Young girl jumped into grandma’s arm as soon as grandma entered apartment.

April 28, 2012

Eritrean FlagFrom the northeastern African nation of Eritrea, the first household we will visit consists of two young men (23 and 24) who are unrelated. The 23-year worked in a pasta factory before he left Eritrea, which is a reflection of the influence of Italian colonial influence in Eritrea. Before he left Eritrea four years ago he fled to Ethiopia due to persecution. In Ethiopia he lived in a refugee camp. He left most of his family behind with the exception of an older brother in Texas who has been a source of comfort and support for him. His family in Eritrea is expected to come to the United States as well. This man works in housekeeping at a hotel in Phoenix and has applied to a technical school. He is also taking a computer class. He summed up his feelings about Arizona and the United States by saying “Life is good!”

Iranian FlagThe next family we will visit is a family of three from Iran who arrived in the U.S. six weeks ago. The husband (44) is a filmmaker and journalist. He was forced to leave his homeland because of the content of one of his documentaries. He wife (42) is an archivist librarian. They have a seven-year old son. Both parents speak English. The family fled with three days’ notice to Malaysia where they lived for three years before coming to the United States. They had to leave all of their belongings behind. They were able to get by in Malaysia with the little money they had as the cost of living was less there than in Iran. The wife told a charming story of how the couple met. She was working in a library and he kept coming in requesting things. She caught on that he was coming in to see her but she played along. He eventually asked her out. This couple did not request much—in fact, they were hesitant to acknowledge any needs. Their two-bedroom apartment was well kept and somewhat furnished. The family is happy to be here and they feel safe in their new community.

Iraqi FlagThe third family we will visit is from Iraq. They are a family of six, consisting of a father (35), mother (35) and four children – three girls, (13, 11 and six) and one boy (1). They arrived in March. The father worked for the United States military as an interpreter in Iraq. He also worked in a plastics factory in Baghdad before becoming an interpreter. The mother worked at the Ministry of Education. Friendly and outgoing, this couple exudes joyfulness. The day we visited the three girls were at school. Their one-year old was at home and he had the same friendliness as the parents. The father speaks excellent English. The mother had just returned from her first English class. They have some family still in Iraq. The father told us the harrowing story of his house being raided by the National Police. After the police left, the family took a taxi to the wife’s parent’s house. They lived there for 18 months until they came to the United States. They are extremely happy and grateful to be here in a safe place. The father hopes to find work in security and the mother would like to work in childcare. They have a need for a small bed for their one-year old son as he sleeps with the parents now.

April 21, 2012

Cuban FlagThe first family we will see is a young Cuban mother and her 11-year old daughter. They came to the United States from Spain, where they lived for three years after leaving Cuba. In Spain, it had become very hard to find steady work because of the weakening economy. The mother’s hope in coming to the US is to be able to find stable employment and to be able to support herself and her daughter. In Cuba, the mother worked as a professional dancer and dance teacher; in Spain she found what work she could, such as hotel housekeeping. Here, she looks forward to finding any job, but dreams of someday being able to work as a dancer again. Her daughter loves her new school and is already completing her homework with ease; she really likes to draw and paint. Both mother and daughter are attending English classes.

Burmese FlagWe will also deliver furniture and household items to a large Burmese family. All nine family members were present during the home visit since the children (ages 2, 3, 7, 9, 12 and 15) were not yet enrolled in school. There is also an adult daughter who is 21 years old. The father was not comfortable sharing their story about their life in Burma but did indicate the he fled to Thailand in 1995 and lived in a refugee camp for approximately 15 years. The family arrived in Phoenix last month, and they are slowly adjusting to their new life with assistance from their pastor and other family members who live nearby. Both the wife and eldest daughter expressed that they would like to find jobs to help support their large family. They also would like to learn English and will be taking classes soon. Home Visit volunteers noted that this family’s apartment was quite bare and minimally furnished. Therefore, the family would appreciate any donations, especially a television, a large dining room set, bicycles, towels, bed linens, and items for the children such as educational materials, building blocks, Legos, soccer balls and art supplies.

April 14, 2012

Burmese FlagThe first family we will visit is from Burma and consists of a mother (26) and her bright-eyed, active two-year old son. The family lives in a second floor, two-bedroom apartment. The apartment is sparsely furnished. After leaving Burma at age six with her family the mother lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for 20 years. She studied in school in the camp. Her son was born there and her husband is still in the camp in Thailand. She is not sure if or when he will join her in the United States. The mother’s parents, brother and sister came to the U.S. at the same time she did four months ago. She lived with her parents until she moved to her current apartment. She works as a housekeeper at a local hotel. She is happy to have a job and to be in the United States. A small toddler bike, some toys and educational material for the son would be helpful. English language tools for the mother and her son would be helpful.

Cuban FlagThe second family we will visit is from Cuba and consists of a husband (51) and wife (48). They started the process to come to the United States in 2005 after the wife had been imprisoned for speaking out against the government in 1988. In 2011 they had their first interview regarding their refugee status application. They were granted refugee status and arrived in Phoenix less than two months ago. “Freedom” is the word the wife uses to joyfully describe how she feels to be here. In Cuba, the wife was in the restaurant business and the husband was a welder. They eventually went into the farming business together. Between them they have three children—two from the wife’s previous marriage and one child they had together. They are hopeful that their adult children will be joining them in the United States soon, but they worry about their chances of being granting refugee status. They feel a mixture of happiness at being in a place where they are no longer afraid and uncertainty for their children’s safety and future. They are studying English and learning computer skills—neither of them has used a computer. Both are willing to do any kind of work. They could use some warm touches for the apartment and additional furniture. A vacuum would be very useful as the entire apartment is carpeted.

April 7, 2012

Bhutanese FlagThe first family we will visit consists of a 23 year old man and his wife who is 19 years old. Their country of origin is Bhutan. The husband left Bhutan when he was one year old and spent most of his life in Nepal. He studied to be a teacher and learned some English while in Nepal. He said Nepal is a beautiful country, but there are no jobs. Also, government permission is required to move from place to place. His family, along with several other families, was able to save and buy a solar oven to cook meals. The wife made bags, hats and crochet items to sell in Nepal markets. She now has a job in a nearby hotel. The husband is looking for work and would like to go to school and become a social worker. He is so thankful and excited to be here. He looks forward to having his father, mother and younger brother with him.

Iraqi FlagThe second family consists of an Iraqi mom and dad and their one-year-old daughter. In Iraq, the husband worked in a factory that made cement blocks. The wife stayed home. They left all their belongings behind and fled to Turkey for over a year before relocating to Arizona. They are expecting a baby boy in a few weeks. The husband will attend English classes and look for work. The wife speaks English and is looking forward to being able to drive as she said women do not drive in Iraq.

Iraqi FlagThe last family we will visit is also from Iraq. The father, age 55, was a coffee shop manager in Iraq. They left Iraq for Turkey where they stayed one year before relocating to Arizona. The mother (48) likes to sew and would love to have a sewing machine. Their daughter (19) attended law school in Bagdad and plans to continue her studies in the U.S. Her brother arrived with his family several months before them and lives nearby.

March 31, 2012

Somali FlagThe first family we will visit is from Somalia. This family consists of four members — a young single mother and her three daughters. The daughters range in age between four and nine years old. The family arrived last month from a refugee camp in Uganda. Before Uganda, the mom said life in Somalia was intolerable. Her sister was taken and raped by a warlord. Also, she and her brother became separated, and she does not know if he survived. She had been married, but the relationship turned abusive when the husband returned after a three-year absence. She chose to divorce him and raise her children alone. Life in the refugee camp was very difficult. The mom found work as a farm laborer when possible. They did not have shelter, schooling or food rations on a regular basis until they were given UNHCR assistance. After that, the girls attended school regularly and they had shelter. The girls are enjoying their school in the United States. They said that in the refugee camp, lessons were taught in many languages and it was confusing. They think it will be easier here because their lessons are taught only in one language; English. They have made friends in the apartment complex and at school. Their mom’s dream is for her girls to have a good education and a better life. Their requests include shoes for the girls and a television.

Somali FlagThe second delivery will be to a small Somali family of three who arrived here last month. The family consists of a mom, her son and her daughter, ages 15 and 14. The mom fled Somalia with her husband and an older son in 1991 due to the civil war. They went to a refugee camp in Ethiopia and struggled without shelter or rations for two years before receiving UNHCR assistance. Once UNHCR assistance was given, they were able to build their shelter and received food, water, and medical treatment. The two younger children were born and raised in the refugee camp. They also attended school within the camp. The oldest son, age 26, is still in Ethiopia and hopes to join his family in Phoenix. The family is adjusting to their new life here and says the city is not dissimilar from the city they visited in Ethiopia for their doctor visits. The two teens have not started school yet, but will begin after the spring break holiday. Mom would like to find a job so she can support her family and also send money to her son in Ethiopia. Both teens are interested in sports and requested soccer and basketballs. The daughter would also like art supplies.

Somali FlagThe third delivery will be to a family of four from Somalia. They, too, left Somalia due to the civil war and spent 21 years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The husband said conditions in the camp were fairly safe and the son attended school while the daughter did not. The husband supplemented their UNHCR assistance with odd jobs found in the camp. They were selected for resettlement in 2009 and were very excited to be going to the United States. The two children — a son and daughter ages 14 and 16 — just had their first day of school. The parents said they had been practicing their English and ABC’s beforehand, and that both were very excited. The family is adjusting well, saying that, besides the language barrier, the biggest adjustment has been to the structured lifestyle here compared to their life in the refugee camp. The father requested bicycles to help with transportation.

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