So many of us are watching videos of Aleppo and feeling totally helpless. Some of us are moved to tears at the sights of desperate children. We feel crushed in spirit by the stories we hear of women being raped and men being beheaded. We wonder how such a travesty can even happen nowadays, and yet we have absolutely no idea what to do. Some will donate their money, and that is a wonderful, kind, generous thing. I implore every Christ follower to be really, truly, actively praying every day for these people. That is the absolute BEST thing we can do.
Yet, I have been brainstorming other ways that I can help. If you live in the Atlanta area, did you know that we can serve Syrians right here in our own city? Clarkston, Georgia is considered the most diverse square-mile of land in America because there are so many nations represented in this small town. And Syrians are definitely among them! There are SO MANY ways you can help refugees as they settle here in the States - literally EVERYONE has the skills to do SOMETHING to help these people!
Donate Your Stuff, Not Just Your Money!
World Relief is a great organization that is equipped to house your non-monetary donations. Among many things, they are tasked with being the "front line" in resettling new refugees by providing apartments and outfitting those apartments with basic necessities.
- Instead of sending your things to Goodwill so that they can make a profit from your stuff, why not consider donating it to Clarkston refugees so we can help stock apartments for newcomers? Each apartment needs basic supplies - sheets, bedding, towels, cookware, furniture, etc. But it's also nice to provide a few thing that make it feel like home - picture frames, candles, etc. If you have a big enough donation, they will even make arrangements to come pick it up for you! Double score!
- Have an old car you need to sell? Consider donating it to these people who need transportation.
- There are often women who come here with new babies. Are you past the baby years and trying to figure out what to do with your crib, toys, baby clothes and things? Consider donating it!
Use Your Power to Empower!
Allowing people to earn a living and provide for their family rather than just receive donations provides dignity for these displaced people - many of whom held very prestigious jobs in their countries. These people aren't looking for simple handouts, so sometimes showing them that their skills are valued here in the States can do wonders for their self-esteem, confidence, and ability to thrive, both economically and spiritually. So consider the following ways you can use your gifts and power to help empower them!
- The Refugee Sewing Society employs Clarkston refugee women, so you could buy their products to support refugees. Who cares if you don't need a crocheted pot holder or scarf or coin purse!?!?! Support these women and allow them to feel great about their newly learned skills that can help them provide for their families.
- Contact Start:Me, a 14-week training cohort to help people start their own businesses. This is awesome since so many of the refugees can learn to provide for themselves and the others in their community. Maybe you can volunteer by teaching a trade or skill.
- Do you teach? Do you speak English? If you answered "yes" to either of those questions, then you could help empower the refugees by helping them learn English. Maybe you could volunteer to teach ESL (English as a Second Language), or if you don't feel equipped to teach, you could just go spend time with them during the ESL classes and events so that they have more native-speakers with whom to practice their skills so that they can be confident when they venture to the workforce outside of Clarkston.
- Something super cool about the Clarkston community is their centrally-located Jolly Avenue Community Garden. Residents can purchase a small plot of land that they can use to grow their own vegetables. Plus, it gives them a purpose each day, something so many of them desperately need as they are often left feeling lost. Can you help in the garden with physical labor? Are you good at gardening and have the ability to teach and help them learn to do it themselves? Use your gifts this way!
- Can you spend some time tutoring the students? You don't have to be a teacher - most of you muddle through helping your children with homework every night! These kids don't always have parents who can help because they're either out working night shifts to provide, or they can speak or read the language enough to know how to help. These students are often VERY behind, especially if they're coming from war-torn countries (which most are!) and have been pulled out of school for several years. They're practically being expected to skip several grade levels AND learn the new material in the English language! You know those standardized tests that all parents and students (and most teacher) despise?? Yea, new language speakers only get a ONE YEAR PASS on those tests. After that, they're expected to pass the test just as well as anyone else in the American country or they get retained. Put that into perspective -- pretend you've been out of school for several years because, ahem, war! Then you have to start school again, learn a new language and culture, learn material that is several years ahead of your skills, and probably deal with PTSD. Good luck! You've got one year to catch up and deal with all that before you're expected to pass a test. My point... come volunteer some evenings to help these children! If you ever went to school, I'm pretty sure you have the skills to help!
- Can you read? Excellent! Come read with children and adults so that they can become literate in the English language, too!
- When I was there I got to know a lady who was hit by a driver and sustained major knee injuries which has made it hard for her to work. She had to go to court and represent herself, even though she doesn't speak English very well. Maybe you could provide some pro bono law work for these refugees?
- Do you speak ANY other language besides English? Or do you know anyone else who does? Maybe you could provide interpreting services.
- Have you ever applied for a job in the States? Then you can help out in Career Hub: Clarkston! They help refugees by providing free internet access and help with resumes, job classes, computer literacy, skills training, etc. You can use your skills to help!
Go Get Your Hands Dirty and Volunteer!
Friends of Refugees is another organization that does a lot to help refugees with empowerment and education. I worked with this group for a week in July 2015, and they are awesome people with a great vision for truly helping refugees, and I can't speak highly enough of them. Most of the ideas in the previous section are from them. Here are more ways you can volunteer with both Friends of Refugees and World Relief. Look on these two organization's website for more details and to fill out a super-easy volunteer application.
- Can you drive some refugees around to doctor appointments and necessary governmental things (I'm not even going to pretend to know all the hoops they have to jump through to keep their refugee status)? Everything medical and governmental totally overwhelms me, but I'd venture a guess that I could manage it better than a non-English speaking refugee.
- Could you take some new refugees to the local grocery store and show them how to shop and pay for things with American money? All of us can go shop for groceries!
- Attention women who like to shop!! Can you spare an afternoon (or two or three or four) to take refugees to buy season-appropriate clothing? Can you imagine someone from Africa getting dropped here in the middle of winter??? Go shop with people!! (How cool is that???)
- Go ride around with them on the buses, subways, and taxis so they can learn the public transportation system, which provides them the ability to get to and from work.
- Want to be the first friendly faces that refugees see when they arrive to Atlanta and make them feel welcome? Go pick them up from the airport and bring them to Clarkston. (Who cares if you can't speak their language?? Many of them have come from awful backgrounds where they're scared of everyone. I'm pretty sure a smiling face and a handshake communicates enough!)
- This idea is near and dear to my heart as a young mother. Embrace helps walk with women through having their babies and providing support. Being a new mom is hard enough - just think about doing in a completely different country without your family and friends around to support you! Now go and embrace these women by supporting them in their pregnancies!
- Have a church group or friend group? You can volunteer as a group!
Send Others Who Can Help!
Most of us can't make volunteer work our full-time job. But you CAN support someone else to do that work. World Relief, Friends of Refugees, and Mission to the World are just some of the organizations that have full-time workers in Clarkston. Consider donating to these people with a one-time gift or on a monthly basis so that they can do this much-needed work of consistently helping these refugees.
Practice Being Present, Not Just Giving a Present!
But don't just send resources. Go see them for yourself. Go sit in their homes and see their beautiful cultural decorations that remind them of their home country. Ask them about their countries. Listen to their stories. Eat their delicious - and sometimes weird!! - meals. Give them a voice and allow them to be heard. Be a friend. Be an encourager. Not being able to fully communicate at first is very awkward and off-putting. Not knowing what to say or being scared of unintentionally offending someone else's cultural practices is difficult. Of course it is! But push through it. These people are out of their comfort zones every minute of every single day that they are in our country. Practice some empathy by putting yourself out there. You can communicate a LOT with a smile. With a meal. With hand gestures. With just our mere presence that says "I want you here. You are more than a refugee. You are a valuable child of God. I see you."