A year after arriving to the U.S., William found himself riding a bicycle up the steep roads of Mt. Rainier. It was the beginning of a 400 mile journey he was taking to help other refugees like himself. Years before, William and his younger sister and their aunt fled ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They had fled to Uganda, but living as refugees was not a permanent solution for the small family. In Uganda, William studied English and looked for the little work that was available; the family waited. They were waiting for a chance to move to Seattle and a new start.
William riding along the 400 mile journey to Spokane – Photo Credit: Nathan Hadley
When William, his aunt, and sister arrived to Washington, they stayed with a local family in a Host Home before their own apartment was set up. Later he was introduced to Sam, a student at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), who met with him each week to practice English and share their culture and lives with each other. That wouldn't be William’s last connection to SPU. After improving his English in classes at World Relief, William got his first job in the U.S. and rode a donated bicycle rode to and from work every day like a true Seattleite.
William’s bike-riding skill got him an invitation to join the second annual SEA TRI KAN: Ride for Refugee Employment bike team. SEA TRI KAN riders travel from the World Relief Seattle office to our office in Tri-Cities before finishing the journey at World Relief Spokane. Riders raise support and awareness for refugee employment in Washington State.
A selfie moment with an SPU teammate – Photo Credit: Avery Parducci
Several of William’s teammates on the ride were from SPU’s cycling club. They championed the cause of refugees on their college campus leading up to the ride. Many of their classmates have been matched as Cultural Companions with families like William’s. Toward the beginning of the ride, another rider noticed William struggling to navigate the gears on a newly borrowed bike. Once that issue was fixed, William quickly shot to the front of the group. William’s contagious smile and optimistic demeanor helped motivate the team all along their tough but rewarding ride.
Thanks for being an inspiration to all of us and helping to give other refugees the best opportunity to find their first job in America.
World Relief invites you to ride with refugees in 2018. To learn more about SEA TRI KAN and how to ride or support a cyclist, please visit www.worldreliefseattle.org/stk
The following was written by Jacob Carter - World Relief Seattle Caseworker
I first met Basiliyous, Hiwot, and their kids when I picked them up from SeaTac Airport.
I anxiously waited outside the gate with their friends, hoping this Ethiopian family of six made it through without any problems.
Right when I saw them, I knew instantly this would be a family I would come to know and love.
They exuded kindness and love. They warmly greeted me, with big smiles and firm handshakes.
We made our way to the car, loaded everything in, and headed to their friend's apartment, where they'd be staying for the next few days. It was getting close to one in the morning and I expected to drop them off and head back to Seattle. Instead, they welcomed me inside, insisting I stay for a meal. I sat there, smiling deep inside and out, as I listened to stories of old friendships, hard trials, and new beginnings.
I would work with Hiwot, Basiliyous, and their family for the next several months, as they settled into their new life in the United States. Our time was spent going to doctors’ appointments, getting the kids into school and summer camp and navigating the minutia of life in America. With World Relief’s help Basilyous found a job here and Hiwot has started her food service apprenticeship where she grows closer to her dream of opening a restaurant.
Never in my life had I met a family with so much joy, compassion, and resilience. Anytime I would visit them in their home, and still to this day, they welcome me in with big hugs and a plate of injera. When I wrapped up my time with them as their caseworker, the first thing Basiliyous said to me was, "you aren't our caseworker Jacob, you’re our brother!”
I think about how me, a twenty something white guy from the suburbs of Texas, could end up being friends with a family from such a different place and background. It's a reminder though, of the humanity in all of us, and how—no matter where we come from or what we look like—love, kindness, and friendship brings us together. In the midst of trying to help this family resettle in their new life, they taught me so much. I am privileged to call them friends, and cherish them as my new family.
Santa Pradhan and her family fled persecution in their homeland of Bhutan in 1992. In 2009, they left the refugee camp in Nepal and made their way to Washington State. Now on staff at World Relief, Santa reflects on her journey to becoming a U.S. citizen.
Do you remember the day that you’re got your citizenship?
Yes, it was on October 10, 2014. It was happiest day of my life.
Can you describe what that day looked like?
It was a very claim and quiet morning as I drove to USCIS office in Tukwila. I was both nervous and emotional on that day. I had mixed feelings about the naturalization test. On the one hand, I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter of my life as a citizen, but, on the other hand, my dream would be crushed if I didn’t pass the test. At the beginning, I answered three questions wrong on the oral test. The USCIS officer reminded me that if I missed three more then I would be disqualified to get the citizenship at this time. I took a long breath and answered the rest of the questions correctly.
Describe feeling during or after the naturalization ceremony?
After the ceremony, I felt amazing. Finally, my prayers were answered after many years of living without a country and citizenship.
For you, what does it mean to be an American today?
It is my greatest honor to be an American citizen. Now, I have a hope for my future generation. Before, I heard America is the land of opportunity to those who are hardworking. It is indeed. America is the land of opportunities.
How did growing up in a refugee camp shape you when becoming an American citizen?
My parents were able to send me to college outside the refugee camp. Also, I worked a couple of years in India before I moved to US. As a result, I got a chance to learn and work with different ethnic groups. So, I would say my education and working history prepared me to become an American citizen.
Describe the between becoming citizen and what it was like before being a citizen?
Being a refugee is like living a life without any value. There were many places where I was rejected due to my identity. Also, I was not allowed to vote or take part for the changing the government. Now, I can vote and take part freely in all activities.
Our Women’s Sewing Class offers a safe space for women to learn English, foster community, and develop skills. Watch stories of mutual transformation from women in the class in this video.
One of the main challenges that refugee women face when they arrive in America is learning a new language. That task becomes exponentially harder if they are pre-literate and don’t know how to read and write in their native language. As a result, many of these women find it incredibly difficult to learn English and venture out into their new surroundings, making them one of our most vulnerable and isolated populations.
World Relief has partnered with Hillside Church and local volunteers to provide a dedicated sewing and childcare space and to create an 8-week basic sewing and vocational English language class. The sewing class not only provides these women with marketable skills, but it’s also a space for them to find community and practice relevant English skills.
The first class was a great success. Eight participants met with our volunteer teachers to create weekly projects ranging from oven mitts to small purses. The women were also given the opportunity to create two baby blankets for future refugee families in need. As a result of the class, two women were hired by local companies. Future classes have become so popular, there is now a waiting list to enroll.
“It was very good for me. It is more than sewing I learn. I make friends and learn many things, make beautiful things.” – Monica
“One of the main things that will stick with me is how women are women where ever they are from. Our life circumstances are vastly different but we have the same concerns – wanting to create a loving home for our families, wanting to provide for our kids, and the joy in being in a safe community, sharing with like-minded women.” -Debra Voelker, Sewing Class Volunteer
Jeanine and Mursal
The following is a reflection of Michael, who participated in a 9 month program through The Union Gospel Mission's Serve Seattle program as a classroom assistant at World Relief. When I first started at World Relief it was very daunting to have so many people who spoke very little English and spoke languages that I knew very little about. I came into this internship thinking that I would be helping all these refugees learn English and other life and job skills. But I was surprised when I realized that I was also learning a lot from these people. It has been amazing to get to see the progress that they have made in their English speaking and reading skills. To a native English speaker it may not seem like much, but I know that going from learning letters and numbers and basic words to being able to speak and write complete sentences in English is a huge accomplishment. Some of my favorite memories have been taking the students on bus trips to Goodwill. Being able to interact with them outside of the classroom has been very impactful for me. Just being able to talk with them and helping them on their English skills makes me proud of them. The most rewarding aspect has really been the relationships that I have developed with both the students and the staff here. Arriving at the classroom each day that I am here, I am always greeted by several of the students, all who know me by name now. Now arriving at the end of my time here, and the start of a new adventure I can look back and say that helping people from so many different countries and cultures learn English (among so many other things) has been an experience that I will never forget. Michael is just one of many people that have invested time into building relationships with ESL students at our on-site classes in Kent, WA. If you would like to volunteer as a tutor or class assistant, we would be glad to have you join the team! For more information, visit worldreliefseattle.org/eslclassroomassistant or email firstname.lastname@example.org