Many of us have felt helpless when faced with the news these days. Stories of bans on Muslim immigration, derogatory speech about Africa and Haiti, and images of refugee children being separated from their parents have left us feeling overwhelmed and powerless.
Here at St George’s, we have begun a mission called “Stand for Refugees” to help our brothers and sisters who are forced to leave their homelands for reasons of safety or persecution. We began last December by partnering with Catholic Charities to learn more about refugees in our community. We learned about the differences between immigrants and refugees. Though those terms are often used interchangeably, they mean different things. An immigrant is someone who chooses to live in another country for a variety of reasons. A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Those who seek asylum are asking for refugee status. Determining the difference can be very challenging.
We discovered that the majority of refugees being resettled in the Fredericksburg area are from Afghanistan, and are here under Special Immigrant Visa protective status. That means they have served the United States government or Armed Forces in some capacity, thus putting their own lives and the lives of their families at risk. Since December, our group has had educational speakers visit to teach us about the process of becoming a refugee. We have also provided food and basic household necessities to several families.
Our special relationship is with a young Afghani woman and her two children. Our friend, Heela, was a lawyer and activist for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. She uncovered corruption while supervising homes for girls, who were being sexually abused while administration turned a blind eye in exchange for bribes. When Heela shed light on the situation, her life and the lives of her children became endangered, and she quickly packed her bags and fled for the United States.
Heela is continuing to face many challenges in her new life in the United States, and many of us at St. George’s have become her extended family. Heela loves Fredericksburg, and feels that she has found a new home here.
Our group will continue its work this fall, branching out from Catholic Charities and finding new ways to support refugees through St. George’s. We hope to grow into more advocacy, as well as expand our personal relationships with those that find themselves far from home and in our midst. If you are interested, you are welcome to join us. Please let me know.
It is hard not to feel overwhelmed by the news, but it is important to realize that the small things we do make a difference.
“Be faithful in small things, because it is in them that your strength lies.” –Mother Theresa
Respectfully submitted by Janice Brunson