ON Saturday, September 23, 2017 the Claremont Presbyterian Church hosted an appreciation party for refugees with the volunteers who support their resettlement in our area. The event sold out and additional seating was placed in the courtyard patio to accommodate all attendees. The meal was prepared by a refugee family from Syria. All told, there 35 refugee adults, 15 assorted teens and children and 95 American volunteers, donors and friends. Most refugees were from Syria, but our translator was from Iraq. He cooperated with the US Army Corps when they were rebuilding bridges in southern Iraq, and his extended family has been harassed, kidnapped and ransomed ever since.
The party was a celebration of refugees and volunteers. It was a testimony on how local non-profit groups identify and gather individuals who care about a common cause–like refugee resettlement. The Claremont Presbyterian Church offered the venue at Fellowship Hall through the Refugee Concerns Committee. The American Institute for Democratic Progress paid for party supplies through a grant fund. Refugee Resettlement Team #2 (RRT#2) a grassroots, community based group of volunteers identified refugees and sent invitations out to them. That group includes members of Temple Beth Israel, working through their Social Justice Committee. A few community volunteers learned about refugee needs at Indivisible house meetings, or from other churches or colleges and universities.
All this activity is based on groundwork of an earlier group formed by the Pomona First Presbyterian Church, college students and the Islamic Center of Claremont.
It was a joyful party. A cake was brought out for seven-year old Malak to sing–everyone knows the words to the “Happy Birthday” song. Children gleefully pulled out tickets for the opportunity drawing with donations of Syrian tablecloths, handmade boxes, and jewelry. After dinner, one of the ladies attached her iPhone to the speakers and undulated while Syrian music played and the men danced, twirling white handkerchiefs in the air. Ladies watched and clapped in merriment. Several women recorded my husband dancing and ran up to show me their videos with great amusement afterwards.
Overall, the objective is to offer a kind welcome to refugees resettling in California and to help them move towards independence as they become acclimated to life in America. When refugees arrive without jobs or community contacts, they need an orientation to fill out forms, to find schools, housing, employment, doctors and ESL instruction. Volunteer support is intended as transitional help but lasting friendships often form in the process.
I was thrilled to detect an emerging self-confidence and resilience in the “older” refugee families. They have made improvements in English. They feel less like strangers in a strange land because many took the initiative to invite every other refugee they knew to hang out together.
We hope to offer more community events like these in the future; picnics, presentations and good times.
by Judy Kohnen
Co-Leader, Refugee Resettlement Team #2