Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wow! What a Summer!

Blogging fell by the wayside this summer as providing assistance to newly arrived Darfur refugees took top priority for Save Darfur Anchorage. Approximately 25 Darfur refugees have arrived in Anchorage between May and today, and more are expected later this month. Refugees are allowed to travel to the United States with 1 bag of belongings per person and are provided only roughly $450 dollars per person each month to cover their needs while getting settled in. Needless to say, their needs are great.

The Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS) branch of Catholic Social Services Alaska leads the charge in welcoming refugees to Alaska, and they do an AMAZING job. Among other things, they find the refugees housing, furnish the residences, greet the refugees at the airport when they arrive, enroll refugee children in school, arrange mandated medical appointments, and teach refugees how to use the bus system. The RAIS program employs only a few staff members and has access to very limited funds, so we have been doing our best to pitch in where we can to make the refugees' transition to the United States easier.

We hosted a welcoming party in May and have continued to host gatherings since then. We have collected and donated clothing and household goods. We have provided transportation when needed. We have answered countless questions about the English language, Anchorage, and our American culture. We have listened to their survival stories and have cheered their incredible resilience. We have helped them try to locate family members that they lost touch with when fleeing Darfur by working with the Red Cross' Restoring Family Links program.

We have also taken some of the refugees to the movies. The size of the refreshments seemed to be more amazing to them than the actual movie! We went to the Arctic Thunder Air Show at Elmendorf AFB. One refugee found it hard to believe that we could actually go on a military base -- and take pictures! He said he would certainly be harmed if he attempted the same in Sudan. Per his request, we took dozens of pictures of him in front of the military aircraft. He hopes to send them to friends in his old refugee camp.

Earlier this month, we went berry picking when the blueberries ripened on the hillside. The children were covered in blueberry juice by the end of the day. And, of course, they had no berries to show for their efforts because they couldn't stop eating them as they picked them. Kids will be kids. The kids also had a blast when we took them to the State Fair. They rode rides fearlessly! Some of the adults even hopped on the Ferris wheel.

Summer was definitely a whirlwind for our new friends, as well as ourselves, and I'm sure none of us would have wanted it any other way.