Last Sunday’s Platform Speaker was Anna Crosslin, President and CEO of the International Institute of St. Louis. She told of the Institute’s work helping immigrants and refugees learn how to live and prosper in the St. Louis area with a goal of making good U.S. citizens of them.
For the last three years, some of us from the Ethical Society have volunteered at the Institute as a group representing the Society or as individuals. I want to tell you about one of those volunteer efforts.
About two years ago we were approached by the Institute with a proposal that we “adopt” a refugee family. This would involve setting up an apartment shortly before their arrival and visiting them several times during their first week. For three months we would be visiting most every week to make sure they were doing OK and answering questions they might have. After that, our commitment would be done. Several of us agreed to participate.
In May of 2018 we were offered a specific refugee family, and we agreed to proceed. Our first “family” was just a single man from Ethiopia who we were told was 30 and perhaps spoke some English. When we met Abdulaziz at the airport with the caseworker, we found him to be 20 and fairly good in English – in addition to 4 or 5 languages from his part of Africa. He was actually coming from Thailand as he had escaped from Africa by himself when he was about 16 by stowing away aboard a ship in Djibouti harbor. After 4 days, he found the ship was in Thailand. In Thailand he made friends with some Americans who taught him English and helped him apply for refugee status with the United Nations.
Many of you helped set up the apartment for Abdulaziz by donating kitchen utensils, linens, kitchen table and chairs, a few day’s supply of food and more. The Institute keeps a list of the items they want supplied with each apartment. He was taken to Aldi’s to learn how to buy groceries with the gift cards he was given. During the first three months, the Institute provides classes and other support to sign up for food stamps, get medical check-ups, a Social Security card …. They do a very good job of getting refugees set up for living in this country.
After a couple of months, Abdulaziz found a job working in a factory. He is quite smart, but he had only a few years of elementary education as a child. However, he is very ambitious, has a good work ethic, and is excellent in networking. He makes friends wherever he goes.
We taught Abdulaziz to drive a car. After he got his license, he quit his factory job and went to work driving a taxi and for Lyft. Now he is back at another factory job which seem better than the previous one. He has applied for a green card and can perhaps get a high school equivalency someday. We continue to meet with and help him every week or two. Next step … helping him get his 2019 taxes done.
Back in November of 2018, the Institute asked us if we were willing to take on another family. We agreed to do so. This family was four siblings from Congo – the Kaluones. The oldest woman was 25 at the time, her brother was 21, their teenage sister was 15, and the youngest girl was 9. The young one has developmental disabilities. Only the male spoke English, but he was fairly good at it. All but the youngest spoke Swahili and French. We taught them how to say “Grav-o-iss”. Ed Schmidt got to visit them a few times and practice his Swahili. The Tuesday Women’s Association (TWA) has given this family a number of things to make their lives better.
I am happy to report that this family is doing well, and four or five of us continue to visit them regularly. Both of the older girls have progressed well with their English. Both adults have jobs and will gain high school equivalence in this country as they had that level of education back in Congo. The male has a driver license while we are still teaching his older sister to drive. All have applied for a green card.
The volunteer efforts we have given to these families through the International Institute are very rewarding to us especially since we know for certain that we have made important differences in the lives of these people.
If you would like to know more about volunteering with the International Institute, my contact information and that of the Institute are in your program.