January is National Mentoring Month and we are excited to launch our new Youth Mentoring Program in partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies! Learn how you can join us a youth mentor - check out this video and read more here.
Shawnee McDonnell has always had a heart for vulnerable populations, especially refugees. After graduating last May from Missouri State University with a Global Studies major and minors in Latin American Studies and Spanish, she was thrilled to join us as an AmeriCorps Vista member. Her time at World Relief has already given her an important first-hand glimpse into refugee issues in the United States and the challenges of adjusting to a new and very different culture. She has drawn on her experience studying abroad in Costa Rica to help her understand, in some small way, what it is like to be in a new place and have to get around without really knowing the language. Combined with domestic volunteer experience in poverty relief, her background informs her work here at World Relief. During her term here, she is building a refugee youth mentoring program in the Memphis area from the ground up as part of a state-wide initiative.
Our program will be one of several across Tennessee intended to provide additional support to refugees ages 15-24, who are navigating their own coming of age alongside the difficult transition into the United States. To prepare for the launch of the World Relief Memphis program in January, Shawnee has been researching similar programs across the country and best practices for youth mentoring. Through this, she has come to understand the importance of supporting refugee youth in their personal, career, and educational goals by giving them space to dream with a dedicated mentors and mentees. These mentors will be members of the welcoming Memphis community, including well-established immigrant communities. The program is voluntary, but we anticipate sustained interest among many of our eligible clients, as this fills an important role in creating opportunities for integration within our community.
For the first three months of the program, the mentees and mentors will meet in a small (virtual) group with the program coordinator as they get to know each other and build rapport. For the rest of their year commitment, they will continue to meet as a small group without the program coordinator as they set goals and learn new skills. They will also benefit from trainings and events held by the Memphis Grizzlies Foundation "Mentor Memphis Grizzlies."
These relationships will contribute to the success and integration of these youth as they begin to establish their adult lives in the United States. We are excited to see how creating space to dream empowers these young people to pursue their passions. These achievements will contribute to the richness of our community and state, and even can contribute to breaking cycles of generational poverty.
Shawnee has seen first-hand how trust placed in someone can create a sense of pride and self confidence through her own work here and hopes to create a similar experience in this program. She has seen how the investment of a little bit of time and direction goes a long way in establishing a support network for those who are trying to figure out their next step in life. Therefore the confidence and knowledge she is gaining undoubtedly will serve her well in whatever she chooses to pursue once her time with us is completed, as she gains experience about the realm of non-profit service.
Does the challenge that refugee youth face resonate with you? Would you like to make a difference? Get started HERE.
Sarah Barnett is the Mobilization Intern for World Relief Memphis and a senior at Furman University in South Carolina. She majors in Political Science and Spanish, and is passionate about influencing where people and policies collide.
At World Relief, we believe that every single one of us is made for change — both in our own lives and in communities across the globe. Throughout this holiday season, we’ve created a list of companies and products that embody our commitment to change in our Made for Change Gift Guide.
Each of these companies is committed to serving those in vulnerable situations by partnering with World Relief. When you purchase a gift from this gift guide, you’ll not only support the work of World Relief, but you’ll be investing in small businesses across the U.S as well.
So what are you waiting for? Shop the gift guide, and create the change you know you were made for.
17Berkshire - Memphis
17Berkshire is a Memphis-made Patisserie on Overton Square offering European desserts with flavors nodding to both the deep South and Middle East. Treat the sweet people in your life with macarons, afternoon tea, specialty coffees, gift items in the shop, or gift card for future use.
For the woman (or man!) in your life that wants their outside to shine as brightly as their inside, pick up a few face masks from Musee Bath’s newest line, prettyinside.
Prettyinside is built on the belief that all women are beautiful, that they are created in the image of God and that beauty is more than skin deep. Empower the women in your life to take a look in the mirror and channel their inner strength, courage and beauty. All prettyinside products are sourced with the best plant-based ingredients for your skin. The packaging is 100% recyclable, and a portion of all sales go to support refugee women through the work of World Relief. “World Relief is one of the foremost organizations addressing the needs [of refugees], and because this is a beauty brand and it’s targeted to women, I wanted to work with somebody that worked a lot with women and children. We are incredibly excited to be partnering with World Relief are so thankful for the work they do that makes a difference in the lives of so many women around the world.” – Leisha Pickering, founder
For the writer and kind-hearted giver in your life, shop owners Taylor and Justin have created a series of notebooks, greeting cards and art prints that your loved one is sure to enjoy. Each gift is inspired by Taylor and Justin’s love of nature, travel, community and warmth. A portion of each purchase goes to support World Relief!
For the people in your life who need to indulge in a little self-care, InSenseUSA is your go-to shop. This collection of candles, soaps and bath bombs are all handcrafted with love in Wheaton, Illinois.
Shopowner Al Alsaadi and his parents fled their home in Iraq several years ago and were eventually resettled in the U.S. They got connected with World Relief, and with hard work and a resilient spirit, they rebuilt their live in the Chicago suburbs. Al is now a design engineer, part-time college professor and small business owner. He’s excited to give back to World Relief because of how much he feels World Relief has given to him.
“I am excited to give to World Relief simply because I wouldn’t be here, and I would not succeed in my life without World Relief. From the first day I came to the States up until to this moment — of having my own small business — Word Relief is on my side helping me. We are in this life to change someone’s life. We might be planning on doing it or not, but if we stop for a minute and think through it, we might have changed someone’s life just by smiling and saying good morning.” -Al Alsaadi
This beautiful book is perfect for the avid reader and art lover in your life. Seattle-based artist Karisa Keasey spent two years interviewing refugees and painting portraits to accompany their stories. She combined the artwork and stories in this stunning book you can purchase on her website. 50% of the profits will be donated to World Relief.
“These are tough times right now and we are all in need of healing. Healing happens in community, and community happens by pouring into others. World Relief embodies this community and knows what it is like to walk alongside some of the most vulnerable.” – Karisa Keasey
Love. Energy. Nourish. Soothe. These are just a few of the words used to describe the bath bombs from Refugee Bath Co. whose mission is to provide opportunities for refugees in Washington to thrive.
Give the gift of fun and indulgence to a special friend or family member in your life, and why not throw an extra bath bomb set in the cart for yourself? When you enjoy these products, you make a difference in the lives of refugee women and men in the United States, as a portion of their profits are donated to refugee support services.
Did you know your Amazon purchases can support World Relief? They can through Amazon Smile! Every time an Amazon Smile customer makes a purchase, 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases will be donated to a charity of your choice.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for from one of the amazing businesses in this gift guide, or if you’re already shopping on Amazon, then follow the steps below to shop on Amazon Smile and Amazon will donate to World Relief on your behalf:
Visit smile.amazon.com and sign in to/register for your account
Type World Relief Corp. of National Association of Evangelicals as your selected charity
Rachel Clair serves as a Content Writer at World Relief. With a background in creative writing and children’s ministry, she is passionate about helping people of all ages think creatively and love God with their hearts, souls and minds.
Prayer is one of our core values at World Relief, a priority and foundation to accomplishing our mission.
Prayer changes our perspective and our posture. It helps us recognize we are not in control, but we are seeking hope in the One who is.
And so we are inviting you into a change journey of prayer as we start our new (fiscal) year. The Bible has a lot to say about God's heart for the vulnerable, including immigrants. Starting October 1, we are launching the "I Was A Stranger" 40-Day Scripture and Prayer Challenge. You can follow along with us on social media as we share one verse to read and meditate on each day. You can start the plan on the YouVersion Bible app. Or you can visit The Evangelical Immigration Table for printable bookmarks and downloadable graphics (like the one pictured here) in English and Spanish. And you can share the challenge with others, sparking a change movement.
What change of perspective could come of this prayer challenge? What encouragement could we lend to our community by leaving other narratives aside and seeing our neighbors of all nationalities as people of worth, dignity, created in God's image? How might we pray more urgently for people forcibly displaced and strangers in new lands, including America? How would we pray differently about policies that affect them?
Start the "I Was a Stranger" Challenge with us today!
Kristen Morris heard about World Relief during her time at Rhodes College. As a member of their City Link program, she volunteered in the Memphis community during three years of her college career. Her first year was spent in an elementary school, but after exploring her international studies major further, she wanted to shift her volunteer focus to connect more closely with her studies. Through her major, she developed an interest in immigration and wanted to get to know immigrants in her new community. This desire made World Relief a great fit for her. The program put her in touch with World Relief Memphis, and she volunteered here for six semesters, until her graduation in May 2020.
One of the things that stood out to her the most about her experience at World Relief was the collaborative nature of the nonprofit sector, both between organizations and with local churches. One of her classes had discussed the large number of nonprofits in Memphis and their collaboration with one another. She was able to see that collaboration first hand with World Relief’s connections to organizations such as Christ Community Health. She also enjoyed seeing the collaboration between churches of different denominations who all agree that they are called to work with immigrants and welcome them to the Memphis community.
Kristen spent her time at World Relief in the Employment and Casework departments. Through this work she interacted with program participants on a daily basis, through home visits and providing support at appointments. By her final semester of the internship, she had become the intern in charge of the Friends of Trezevant English Program. This program connects participants in the Refugee Elders program with residents of a local retirement community. The goal is fostering community and further developing English language abilities among the Elders. She was surprised and impressed by the willingness of the retirement community residents to give of their time and energy to their foreign-born contemporaries. And these relationships were important to her, too. She got to know the Elders participants through driving them to the class, and she even spent time outside of the internship at the retirement home with those she had met through the class.
Kristen credits World Relief for helping her develop professional skills, such as confidence, creative problem solving, and resilience. On her very first day of the internship, she was surprised at how much freedom she was given in accomplishing her assignments. But once she recovered from this initial surprise, she came to appreciate the freedom and the confidence it gave her. And when she made mistakes? They only helped her learn about herself and the graciousness of her refugee neighbors. Both the technical experience with refugees and the confidence she gained during her first two semesters as an intern set her up for successful adaptation of her skills for a program in Morocco in the summer of 2018. She was grateful for already having cross cultural experience, as she lived with a host family and worked in a very different culture from the one she was raised in. Ultimately, Kristen hopes to use all of this experience in her career, either in peace and development or in conflict resolution. We are grateful for her work with us and excited to see how she uses her skills in the future!
By Sarah Barnett, Mobilization Intern
Learn more about becoming an academic or summer intern with World Relief Memphis like Kristen and Sarah! Visit HERE for more information and to submit your application.
Savannah Day became interested in refugee resettlement through talking to a high school friend who was involved in a refugee resettlement program in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When she looked for a similar organization near the University of Mississippi, where she was a student, she couldn’t find one. After expanding her search to surrounding cities, she found World Relief Memphis. Her goal was to learn more about social service providers and to be exposed to people from different cultural backgrounds. During her time at World Relief, she learned this and so much more through her work in the Direct Services department, as she engaged with both program participants and World Relief staff. Savannah credits the semester internship she spent at World Relief with sparking her love for those who are different from her and their cultures, even driving her to apply for the Peace Corps after her (virtual) graduation from the University of Mississippi in May 2020.
Savannah’s favorite memory from her time at World Relief is the relationships she built, especially with one particular Muslim family from East Africa. Mohamed, Amina, and their two children had lived in a refugee camp for six years before being invited to enter the United States as refugees. When they arrived, Savannah was at the airport to greet them, and walked alongside them as they adjusted to life in Memphis. She provided transportation and support for both Mohamed and Amina, who was pregnant, at their initial medical and social services appointments after arriving. These included Amina’s prenatal care visits, a topic which Savannah didn’t know much about herself. But she was able to learn alongside Amina, including researching related topics on her own to provide better support. Through accompanying the family to their appointments, Savannah built relationships with every family member as she helped them navigate the systems and culture of the United States. During one of these appointments in the springtime, she had an opportunity to share some of the background and celebrations of Easter after Mohamed asked her a question about the upcoming holiday. That same conversation led to him sharing about the Muslim tradition of Ramadan with her, resulting in mutual respect and better understanding for both of them.
Savannah is grateful for the opportunity she had to both contribute toward and learn from the diversity of Memphis. At the end of the semester, she left with a desire to work in a cross cultural environment and to visit a new place, as she had been inspired by the resilience demonstrated by World Relief program participants. This hope led her to a study abroad experience the following summer in Israel, where she worked with refugees displaced from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She was also able to explore some of the themes she learned about in her internship in an academic context. Her undergraduate senior thesis was on the topic of resettlement policy and recently changed policies’ impact on the work of World Relief and other similar organizations. Her experience at World Relief instilled an interest in this area and gave her impactful experiences and connections from which she could draw in future endeavors.
Before the pandemic hit, she was on track to leave this coming September for a position with the Peace Corps in Morocco. She still hopes that opportunity develops, but has shifted her plans this year to pursue biblical justice for marginalized populations through a Christian fellowship program in New York City. Her time at World Relief changed the way she viewed the church’s role and responsibility to reach out to their vulnerable neighbors, leading her to highly value this trait in a church body. She points the focus back to Jesus as he routinely uplifted people and populations without power in his society. She has had the opportunity to engage with other believers on this topic, even helping to shift some of her family members’ mindsets toward political questions of immigration by discussing these issues through the lens of shared humanity and generosity.
When asked what her advice is to college students considering this internship, she said, “if you have time you should do it, and if not you should make time for it!” We couldn’t agree more!
By Sarah Barnett, Communications Intern
To learn more about our internship programs, read more HERE. Now's the time to apply for an academic internship with us!
Today, June 18, 2020, the Supreme Court made the decision to uphold DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and protect Dreamers. A permanent decision still needs to be reached in Congress, but today we celebrate with the young men and women across the country who can continue contributing to our communities and long for a path toward citizenship. Dorian is a DACA recipient in Memphis.
In a society that is pushing a message of division daily, it is a blessing to meet someone striving to change the narrative and whose life is an example of the potential for Dreamers in Memphis and beyond. Dorian first arrived in America 16 years ago, when his parents left Honduras for America with the dream of finding stable work to raise their family. Dorian describes his family’s choosing of Memphis as “destiny.” It was a risky decision for his family who arrived undocumented. At the time, Memphis was not a city on the rise, packed with exciting emerging opportunities as it is today. A pivotal event helped change his trajectory moving forward. DACA was passed, giving him a pathway to legally attend schools and pursue his life-long goals.
His 8th grade teacher – whom has since become a mentor and like second family – expressed her sense that he had an incredible knack for learning and immense potential. With her and her husband’s support emotionally and financially he was enrolled at Christian Brothers High School. He describes his Freshman year as a culture shock: “There was a huge lack in minority students. The quality of education was very good. But, I did deal with stereotypes and microaggressions because I was different.” Undeterred, Dorian used the negative energy as fuel to keep him motivated and considered himself to be his biggest enemy. “At the end of the day, if I fail, it’s because of myself. I can’t let societal obstacles stop me.” He finished his Freshman year with the highest GPA in his class. Continuing to build on his success, he excelled in honors classes and just graduated from Rhodes College where he studied Economics.
Currently, Dorian is striving to enter into the corporate field and better the country that he has called home for many years. However, in these past few years, the opportunities for DACA Dreamers have been called into question. “When the removal of DACA was first threatened, I felt my dreams crashing in. I gave everything I have to make America great yet they suddenly don’t want me here?” His fear is far from the only one, as thousands DACA recipients are living with the knowledge of policy change looming overhead. As we talked, our photographer and fellow advocate for refugees and immigrants made an excellent point: “We all came to America at different points in history with dreams and goals unachievable in our homelands. If now certain people are not allowed here, by extension of the same logic, we all should not be here.” Despite this, Dorian is choosing a life of joy. He has returned the compassion and guidance he received from his mentors while a young student and has become a mentor for a 3rd grader and 6th grader while also remaining active in the DACA community at Rhodes. “My main goal every day is this: How can I translate my love of all people into actions? Your experiences define what you believe and that’s how I’ve developed my faith.”
As we look to the future of DACA Dreamers and Latinx immigrants in this country, there is still much work to be done for us to fully embody Christ’s command to love and accept the sojourners. Dorian’s goal is to change common misconception and spread love. “We didn’t come here to be criminals and rapists. I want my story to show that despite immense odds that you can still be successful. I want to widen the doors for the future of world changers. I always see hope and want to change the narrative about immigrants, refugees, and illegal aliens. I’m optimistic that this will happen.”
In light of the Supreme Court decision, Dorian shared these thoughts:
SCOTUS's recent ruling on DACA elicited a wave of emotions--gratitude and hope are the two most prominent. The uncertainty of my legal status has been a burden that is mentally draining. As I looked forward to starting my full-time job, my concern grew, as the termination of my legal status would crush my hopes of entering the corporate world. However, today's news brought temporary relief. I have not seen my extended family in over 15 years, so the possibility of using advance parole to see them and travel for work is exhilarating. Unfortunately, Dreamers do not have the privilege to vote, but I hope people that can vote to do so. The 5-4 ruling in favor of DACA highlights how one vote can make a difference. This is a victory, but we still have a war ahead. I am hopeful for an equitable and just world, not just for DACA recipients.
By Nathan Spencer
Photos by Emily Frazier
June is #immigrantheritagemonth and #refugeeawareness month and we have been featuring stories of Memphis students who are thriving as part of our community. With your support, World Relief offices across the US have helped file approximately 4,300 applications for protections under the DACA program over the last eight years. Together, we’ve provided thousands of young immigrants with access to education, jobs and a promising future. When you give today, you ensure our vital work together continues. If you would like to sign the Dreamers letter to Congress with the Evangelical Immigration Table, click here.
June was first declared as World Refugee Awareness Month in 2001 culminating in World Refugee Day June 20th. Since then, June has been a time to acknowledge strength, courage, perseverance and resilience of millions of past and present refugees who live around the globe, including here in Memphis!
Refugees are men, women, children who have been forced to leave their home country due to war, conflict, credible fear of persecution (due to race, nationality, religion, political opinion or social group). Today more than 25.9 million people have refugee status, and another 41 million are internally displaced.
But when invited to a final country for permanent resettlement, these neighbors are welcomed into community, provided vital services, and thrive when given the opportunity to embrace a life of peace, freedom, education, employment, and serving their communities.
Do you wish to learn more about the current refugee crisis? Considering we can't host an event in person this year, this is a great opportunity to invite family and friends to watch the same film or read the same book remotely, then discuss over Zoom, Facetime, What's App, or more! Other things to do this week include:
- talk with a refugee friend
- order take out from an immigrant-owned restaurant (like Global Cafe or Naguara Home Made Food!)
- partner with us by giving or volunteering
- learn a phrase in the language of your refugee friend
- call or write state and national senators to advocate on behalf of refugees
- share with someone why you welcome refugees!
Here are some reading/listening/watching recommendations - LOTS to choose from this week or this summer:
Books on the Refugee/Immigrant Experience
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Brothers of the Gun – A Memoir of the Syrian War - by Marwan Hisham
Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin
City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence
Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Homes: A Refugee Story - by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah
Seeking Refuge by Stephen Bauman, Matthew Soerens, and Dr. Issam Smeir
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
The Bee Keeper of Aleppo: A Novel by Christy Lefteri
The Boat People by Sharon Bala
The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of coming to America by Mohammed Al Samawi
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America by Nikesh Shukla
The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers
The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The Ungrateful Refugee: What Immigrants Never Tell You by Dina Nayeri
To Stop a Warlord by Shannon Sedgwick Davis
We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman
Welcoming the Stranger by Jenny Yang and Matthew Soerens
What is the What by Dave Eggers
Graphic Novels on the Refugee/Immigrant/Asylum Seeker Experience:
Illegal by Eoin Colfer
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown
Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight - by Duncan Tonatiuh
Zenobia – By Morten Durr
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Published April 14, 2020)
Books for Young Adults
A Land of Permanent Goodbyes by Atia Abawi
A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park
Escape from Aleppo by N. H. Senzai
How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
In the Sea There are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda
Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World by Malala Yousafzai
Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed
My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
The Journey by Francesca Sanna
I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien
MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES
God Grew Tired of Us
The Good Lie
Born in Syria
Fire at Sea
First They Killed My Father
Share your book or movie reviews on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag us: @wrmemphis.
What is World Relief's Asylum Program? | ¿Que es el Programa de Asilo?
World Relief Memphis offers the following support programs to individuals and families granted asylum into the United States.
World Relief Memphis ofrece los siguientes programas de apoyo a individuos y familiares que han obtenido el estatus de asilo en los Estados Unidos.
We work with clients to navigate the American workplace, taking steps together toward career development and successful integration through job application assistance, goal setting, and job referrals.
Trabajamos con clientes para navegar el estilo de trabajo Americano, tomando pasos juntos hacia el desarrollo professional y exito en integracion a través de asistencia en aplicaciones de trabajo, crear metas, y recomendaciones de trabajo.
We offer quality, accessible English courses which are available in the morning and evening. There are classes from beginner to advanced levels.
Ofrecemos cursos de Inglés con calidad accesible los cuales están disponibles en la mañana y noche. Estas son clases con niveles desde principiantes hasta avanzados.
Other Services | Otros Servicion De Apoyo
Schedule a consultation appointment to learn about eligibility for additional support services, including cash assistance, medical insurance, healthcare, navigation, and case management.
Programe una cita de consultacion para aprender acerca de la eligibilidad para servicios adicionales de apoyo. Que incluyen asistencia en efectivo, seguro medico, asistencia medica, navegación y manejo del caso.
For more information CONTACT US at: | Para más información contáctenos como:
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"I am from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but I grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. I am the eldest of 5 children. As the oldest girl, I was not able to go to school in Uganda because like many girls in different parts of the world, I cared for my younger siblings while my mother provided for our family. My mother began the resettlement process when I was very young and it took so many years before we were approved to come to the United States. I was 14 when we finally came here.
When I arrived, I was so happy I cried with joy. I thought this must be heaven, was I living in another world? I thanked God. Other people are dying, but I am being given a chance to live. We were reunited with my grandmother and my uncle, who were already in Memphis. It was so good to be together.
Now that I was in America, I could finally go to school! I was so excited to learn. I didn't know any English. I heard other people talking but I couldn't understand them. I was able to go to the Newcomer School, and it helped me a lot. I was shy at first, but when I saw other kids who were nice, it made me so happy. One of the teachers, Ms. Hannah, was so kind to me. She could speak Swahili and had been to Uganda. She made me feel welcome. I also found other kids who grew up in Uganda and heard them speak my language, and it was good. I loved learning in school, and I pushed through to learn and do my best. And I loved the food at school! So many different foods. I really like pizza.
After two years at NCI I went to Frederick Douglass High School. My favorite subject is science. I also love to dance. It makes me so happy! I am on the Dance Team at school. Now I'm a Senior! After high school I would like to keep dancing, but I would also like to be a doctor. Being a doctor is everything. You help people and it is so important.
Through all of this, my mother has been my inspiration. She doesn't give up easily, she is always so strong. She didn't give up when we were in Africa, trying to figure out where we would sleep or what we would eat. And she is still so strong.
For other new students, I would say don't be shy, just be you. I know it's a new school to you, a new country, but it's going to be fun. Try to find somebody to help you."
As interviewed by Karen Spencer
June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #RefugeeAwarenessMonth, and as we count down to World Refugee Day June 20th, we will be featuring stories of courage, resilience, and hope among our refugee and immigrant community. Some of our stories will be in collaboration with SCSK12 en Espanol. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @wrmemphis.
To contribute to our work, visit worldreliefmemphis.org/covid19.
Learn more about Shelby County Schools' Newcomer International Center here.
For more summer reading on this topic, we recommend these books:
- The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in America.
- Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate
Aise Nature Bahonda and Emily Yope are proud to be a part of the refugee community here in Memphis. I had the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss their story and their aspirations for the future; doing so in hopes to encourage other new commers to this city and to remind others of the importance of supporting this resilient group of people.
Both coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, these teens described fond memories of their life in their hometowns as children such as playing soccer, hanging out with friends, and constructing slingshots. However, they do remember the trials as well. Aise recalled the struggle of travelling miles to get fresh water and the poor treatment he received in school. With conflicts rising in their country, their families were displaced and contacted by IOM (International Organization for Migration). Emily specifically noted that traveling to and from IOM’s location was extremely difficult as it was over three hours from their home. For her, the refugee process took over three years. Aise, who was four when the process started, recalls the loads of paperwork his family had to complete, and the numerous questions queried to them. For both, it was exhausting and intimidating. The trials only continued once their journey commenced.
When asked about the emotion of the moment, Emily stated, “I didn’t know anyone or how to live there (in America) so I kind of freaked out. When our friends left us (resettling in a different city), it was so painful.” Pushing through however, they were greeted in Memphis by World Relief who wasted no time in settling them in their new home. Although his dad was the only one who knew basic greetings in English, Aise stated he felt relieved when they arrived at their Memphis house. In fact, his favorite moment was “the huge table of food!” For Emily, she was relieved to see the diversity of the city of Memphis. She told me she worried they would be outsiders here, but upon arriving quickly met other people from her country which alleviated some of the initial culture shock. From there, World Relief began helping them with their application processes for their Social Security cards, getting them enrolled in school, and much more.
Learning English was the most difficult challenge to overcome as the students adjusted to school in America. “It was difficult when I was used to being at the top of my class back home, then coming here and not understanding anything my teachers said. I had no idea what to do,” remembers Emily. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and after school tutoring at Refugee Empowerment Program helped her to regain confidence by about seven months in school. Simultaneously, Emily is keen to keep fluent in her home languages of Swahili and French, and volunteers to interpret for others at church and in her community. Aise chooses to stay fluent in Lingala as well, and practices regularly by visiting with cousins and family over various apps.
Now, both are thriving in school and are excited for the future. Emily is a senior at Central High-School and Aise is a sophomore on Central's varsity soccer team. Emily’s dream is to be a cardiologist while Aise’s is to be a surgeon. When asked why, both stated they have a passion to help others. Emily was inspired by the death of a cousin who couldn’t get the cardiac surgery needed. Aise described his motivation: “Where I grew up I saw a lot of people in pain and it was hard to get medical treatments. I just want to give back the favor. I hate seeing death. I want the world to be full of light and peaceful.” With World Relief’s continued support coupled with their ravenous work ethic, their dreams will become a reality, which will be another small step in building a better future for the next generation.
Story: Nathan Spencer
Photos: Emily Frazier
June is #ImmigrantHeritageMonth and #RefugeeAwarenessMonth, and as we count down to World Refugee Day June 20th, we will be featuring stories of courage, resilience, and hope among our refugee and immigrant community. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @wrmemphis.
To contribute to our work, visit worldreliefmemphis.org/covid19.
Nathan and Emily volunteer for World Relief as copywriter and photographer. To learn about volunteering with us, visit Volunteer Opportunities