Komezakaranga Drummers: Keeping a Culture Alive

Komezakaranga Drummers: Keeping a Culture Alive

Photo credit to Rick D'Elia of D'Elia Photographic

Two Sundays ago The Welcome to America Project held a fundraiser celebrating the rich culture of Burundi.  Delicious food and inspiring stories filled the evening. One highlight of the night was the performance of a drumming group called the Komezakaranga (which means heritage). The syncopation of the powerful drums sounded like heartbeats as the troop members sang, danced, and pounded on their instruments. The drummers gracefully balanced their drums, which are made of hollowed tree trunks and painted like the Burundi flag, on their heads- which is quite a talent! The Komezakaranga drummers aim to spread a piece of Burundi wherever they perform in order to keep their culture alive.  To find out more about these amazing drummers, visit komezakaranga.com.


Volunteer Experience: Peter Tlale

Submitted by Peter Tlale

Volunteering with The Welcome to America Project really impacted my life in a progressive way. It made me think of how privileged I am to be residing in a country with less violent behaviors compared to other countries globally. One aspect that opened my eyes was the fact that a person does not have to be rich in order to make a difference in other people’s lives; it just takes effort, sacrifice, and putting another person’s needs before your own.

Peter TlaleIt is really heartbreaking because refugees do not ask for their country to be affected by so much political instability and unending problems. They are robbed of ever seeing their family members again and some do not have the desire to go back to their country. These refugees are on the verge of breaking but still must seek employment and learn a new language, which is why I think it is up to us to make the adjustment easier.

This situation makes me think of difficult questions. What if it was me who was told to shut down my business or else my family would die? Would I have survived this traumatic experience? What can I do to help refugees as they flock to my country?

I also got to see the real face of American people, their humanitarian spirit towards others. Engaging yourself in community activities shapes a society. As an individual it inspires you to do more and give back to the community because there is always someone who is crying for help. Let us unite and be responsible citizens.


“Laughter has no foreign accent” Paul Lowney

While I have always loved this quote, these words took on a new meaning two weeks ago on a delivery to a family from Bhutan. The father greeted us eagerly in the parking lot and cheerfully welcomed us (the volunteers) into his home. After the furniture was arranged just right, all twenty of us huddled together in the living room to hear about the family’s journey.

The father spoke some English but most of the communication came from contagious smiles, glistening eyes, and joyful laughs. Any small moment of silence was broken by a rich laugh from the father that seemed to say just about everything.  It was not a laugh of humor, although there were many of those as well. It was almost as if he possessed so much joy on the inside that it overflowed as laughter; laughter that expressed his relief to finally be safe with his family, laughter that showed his gratefulness, and laughter that revealed his excitement for a new life in the United States.

The delivery with this family was something special. I discovered the power of a laugh and the connection that it brings between people of any language.


An Interview with Sue Koesser: A Peek into the Clothes Closet

Clothes Closet

This month’s blog post highlights one of our amazing volunteers, Sue Koesser. Sue is an amazing woman who has faithfully committed three years to The Welcome to America’s Clothes Closet. Continue reading for more information about Sue and the Clothes Closet.

WTAP: What is the clothes closet?

Sue: The Clothes Closet is an event that occurs every other Saturday morning. It is held once a month at two apartment complexes, one in Phoenix and the other in Glendale….(The)  Clothes Closet events are fun mornings…as we welcome the refugees and provide a “shopping experience” for them.

WTAP: Why did you get involved with the Clothes closet?

Sue: I initially volunteered because of a sense of wanting to give back for the many blessings I have had in my life…I wanted the refugees to feel good about Americans and for them to feel welcomed and hopeful . But I can tell you that the true benefactor of my volunteering is myself. The smiles and hugs, the warm feelings of friendship, the patience I have learned from the calm way the refugees wait their turn amaze me.

For more information on how to volunteer with the Clothes Closet, please take a look at the “volunteer” tab on the Welcome to America Project website. Thank you Sue for all you have done for the refugees in Phoenix!

Comfort is Overrated

Comfort: a condition of feeling pleasure and ease.

This is something all humans seek. However, I have recently discovered that when we glorify comfort, it can lead to an apathetic and static lifestyle. Seeking comfort above all else separates us from reality and keeps us from venturing outside ourselves to gain perspective.

Refugees are people whose lives are far from comfort.

Refugees are people whose lives are far from comfortable. They have endured the pain of losing family members. They have traveled hundreds of miles to a foreign land not knowing a single soul. They have faced persecution and been forced to leave their homes. Yet through all of this, the refugees I have met exhibit immense joy and strength. Their suffering has led to personal growth, which can only be brought upon by difficulties.

So let’s get uncomfortable.

The notion is not to be uncomfortable merely for the sake of being uncomfortable, but for a greater cause. It could be for freedom, for a dream, for family, or for faith. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to step outside of ease and experience life.

I will end with a simple yet inspiring quote by author Isabel Allende. “Comfort is overrated. There is nothing wrong with a little pain.”

A Global Community

Community. That is the word that comes to mind when reflecting on my first experience with The Welcome to America Project over two years ago. I was not expecting to be so impacted by simply bringing household items to a Rwandan refugee family. We did not even bring much – some furniture, pictures, and dishes but the joy that was expressed on their faces showed what a blessing those items were to them. This is because their family came to the United States with almost nothing. They had each other and that was it.

I soon found out their apartment complex was also home to many other Rwandan families. That explained why this family of five had an additional twenty people in their apartment. These neighbors had instantly become family. Then it hit me – this was what true community looks like.

Here were refugees, thousands of miles from their familiar home and yet they had already found a new “home” because they had made connections with fellow Rwandans. This small community isn’t unique in its kind; there are Guatemalan communities, Indian communities, Somali communities and others all across this country. I realized that as human beings, we long to feel as though we belong, to feel a connection to people or places.

What I witnessed that day was an interaction between two cultures – my own typical American suburbia and the Rwandan way of life. The result was something special that I will never forget. It is these types of interactions between different cultures that break down the barriers between us. And when global citizens from different communities come together, we create a global community.

I knew very little about refugees prior to this experience, but I now understand what a beautiful piece they are in the puzzle of the United States.


The Executive Director’s Story: Megan O’Connor Tells All

Submitted by Corrie King, volunteer

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely Megan O’Connor, Executive Director of The Welcome to America Project. Megan has been a part of the WTAP family for the past five years and has been executive director for almost two years. She is an incredible asset to the organization. Read on to learn more about how Megan came to work with WTAP.

Megan O'Connor

Q: How did you become involved with The Welcome to America Project?

A: Right after college I began an internship at the International Rescue Committee, an organization that works with the government to resettle refugees in the U.S. At IRC, part of my responsibilities were to refer clients to The Welcome to America Project for supplemental household items. Because of the passion and teamwork I saw, I knew WTAP was the place I wanted to be. It has been incredible to work in such a community-based organization in the city where I grew up. I have not been disappointed by the volunteers, donors, staff and board members who have all been drawn to such an important and valuable project.

Megan O'ConnorQ: What is most motivating for you about WTAP?

A: Saturday deliveries always end the week on a positive note. When I see an American student sharing a laugh with a newly-arrived refugee for the first time, it motivates me to continue engaging others to support our mission.

Q: What is the most surprising thing you have learned while working with refugees?

A: Despite cultural differences and language variations, people are actually quite similar–no matter their background. We all have the need to feel safe, welcomed and part of a community.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience while working with WTAP?

A: I have had so many touching experiences. One of the best experiences I can recall was painting the delivery truck. Every time I see that bright vibrant painting I remember all the children that helped paint it and the incredible volunteers who worked behind the scenes to put that day together. The kids at the complex love to tell me, “Remember when we painted that? I helped!” Those memories warm my heart.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests?

A: Theater – I love Southwest Shakespeare Co. here in Mesa. I also enjoy reading, traveling, camping, and the hit classic television series, The Golden Girls.

Thank you Megan for sharing your journey!