These first few days in Phoenix have been wonderful! As Lacey mentioned, it was a long day of traveling before finally reaching our destination! But it was well worth the wait! From the moment we saw the hostel, we all knew we were in for a treat. I have never before stayed at such a unique and welcoming place! My favorite components of the hostel are the welcoming staff, the rooftop where you can see the sun rise and set, the murals, the hammocks, and the map of pushpins indicating where guests are from.
I am glad our group was able to attend the church service yesterday. We were welcomed with handshakes and smiles from all. The friendliness was exemplified by one of the churchgoers sitting with our group to translate the service from Dinka to English.
We went the Pro’s Ranch Market in the afternoon to buy groceries for the next few days. As part of the ASB experience, we eat on a simulated poverty budget.
One of my favorite parts of yesterday was that we were able to get out and explore our hostel’s neighborhood. The flat streets were a nice treat from the hills of Harrisonburg! And the sunny weather here would surely convince any couch potato to be outside!
Today marked our first day of service. We met with two of the Catholic Charities staff. They were able to give us valuable information on refugee resettlement. Did you know… Our President decides the maximum number of refugees that the United States will resettle? Refugees are different from illegal immigrants in that they are forced to leave their country. Catholic Charities, like other organizations, has a contract with Homeland Security to resettle refugees. Do not let the use of Catholic in the title fool you, there is no religious affiliation required of those who receive assistance nor those who give assistance, whether that be staff or volunteers.
After asking questions and better understanding the resettlement process, we went out to purchase donations that we would bring to families. The items we bought included soap, shampoo, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and feminine products. For me, I was humbled by the recognizing items I take for granted. A few others and myself were able to buy candy as a snack while at the store. I couldn’t help but think, as I made my purchase, that to me a few dollars would not make a difference in my survival. But to a family first arriving in the United States, with no job yet secured, well as CC staff said- toilet paper is a luxury item. Then as we met with families and delivered the items, the families would tell us how grateful they are for our donations. Today’s experience really makes all my worries around money seem so small.
We were able to meet and talk with two families, who have both been here for 3-4 months. As a class we read about genocide, but it is so different to read about it than to meet someone who has experienced it. Suddenly it makes you realize you are not reading a story, but rather your fellow human’s reality. The families’ gratefulness and happiness to be in the US is inspiring. We asked one refugee what is the biggest difference between the Congo and the United States. His answer was that here he has a permanent address. In the past, he was always being forced to run from one place to the next. I realized this is something I take for granted. Lately I always tell people how after JMU, I don’t plan to move back to where my family is. I want to work/study somewhere new, to immerse myself in a city unfamiliar to me. I never realized how it is a privilege to be able to choose where your home is. I cannot even imagine rebel groups coming into my town of Woodbridge and purposely burning my home and my neighbor’s homes.
One other thing that stood out to met was how refugees come with only their paperwork. I do not think of myself as a very materialistic person, but to leave all my possessions behind seems unfathomable to me. What about items that are passed down from generation to generation? I feel the refugees who I have met are not defined by the possessions/places they were separated from or any of the hardships that encompass genocide. To me, a refugee is someone who no matter where they may be possesses a courageous, determined, grateful spirit.
Tonight, over a stir fry dinner( which currently smells delicious!) we plan to discuss our observations as a group. We are all in a state of processing. This is only day one- I am so nervous and excited to see what my observations and learning are the rest of the week! After dinner, we plan to attend a Jazz/Latin concert at ASU!