Two CWS Community Organizers Share their Experience as Part of a Team Building Unity Across the United States

November 21, 2022

Sanya Wafeq, Community Organizer, Houston, TX

On September 19th I had the privilege of joining the CWS Organizer retreat and training in Washington D.C. The retreat was for three days from September 19 to 22, 2022. As I joined my new job and went directly to the retreat, there were many questions about about my new job: what would my role be, how could I best go about doing the work, how CWS’s values and principle matched with my own, and how I would be able to build relationships with my new coworkers? Really, it came down to how I would fit in as a new team member.

On the first day of the retreat, while having breakfast, I started interacting with my co-workers. I learned that they had arrived from seven other states, and found that everyone was super friendly and supportive. Before the meal was done, the fear of how to establish a relationship with my new teammates was gone.

The bigger questions, about the organization, its values, and my specific role, I was to discover, were well-answered during the three days of retreat.

From that breakfast until my trip home, I not only learned about the various activities CWS is conducting in our communities, but also what I was supposed to do in my role as a community organizer.

Learning about community engagement and how we can bring our communities together, in the spirit of unity, I found that we are more powerful, stronger and impactful. Specifically, some of what we talked about over those three days were:

        Practical work with leaders individually

        Leadership Approaches

        What Organizers do

        The story of self, us and now, and the impact of all the stories for being a change in future

Beyond these eye-opening topics, we also were presented with the great opportunity to share our stories about what inspired us all to start working as Community Organizers. Through that opportunity we got to know each other, but we also created a beautiful bonding and respect among co-workers. 

Personal storytelling is always powerful. It helps us know people’s background, it helps us understand their perspective of things in the world, but, importantly, it helps us not to judge their approach of doing this great work. When there is no judgment and there is understanding, there will be acknowledgment of each person and their own diversity, which leads to peace and tranquility of mind and body for all involved. My questions evaporated and I felt proud to be part of an organization that strives to create a peaceful environment for their personnel. 

In short, I felt lucky joining this team! 


Rodrigue Makelele, Virginia Community Organizer, Harrisonburg, VA

This September, CWS’s Organizing Team gathered in Washington D.C. for a team retreat. This retreat was a great opportunity to connect and meet with mindful and passionate advocates and organizers like myself. When I joined CWS in 2019 as a case manager, I came with an open heart and curiosity to learn and serve as much as possible. My experience as a case manager allowed me to witness first-hand the challenges that refugees face when they are first resettled in America. Now, as a community organizer in Harrisonburg, Virginia, I get to use that knowledge to empower refugees and amplify their voices. My colleagues on the organizing team are committed to this same goal in their communities in Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, and Georgia. 

During our retreat, I realized how connected and passionate we all are. It was an opportunity to learn from each other, joke, share our stories and our ‘why’ behind our work. Overall, I got the opportunity to meet new team members who are excited to start building collective power. But, building collective power involves getting to know one another. We ate together, laughed together, spoke in mother tongues, went on a tour of the city, ate African food, and reminisced as we sang childhood songs.

Beside our social time together, we were trained on several topics by our leadership. We practiced the ways we would identify community leaders, engage them, and recruit them to join our common call for positive change. I felt engaged and encouraged as we navigate a time of important changes in America.  

My experience as a case manager has given me an up-close understanding of the challenges refugee families face during their first 90 days in America. Upon arrival, refugees are faced with language barriers and culture shock. In addition to starting to learn English, they often go through a cultural orientation to better adjust to their new communities and begin looking for employment opportunities. Not only are they adjusting to a new country, they are also trying to respond to meeting their families needs, paying their bills, and rebuilding their lives in a new community.

My work as a case manager, as well as my own experience as an immigrant, have shaped my desire and passion to look for systemic issues that need to be addressed to allow a smoother integration for refugees and immigrants. That includes policy change, civic engagement, leadership development, as well as community building.

For this systemic change to be a reality, we need to work together as a community to address these systemic challenges, with a team that is dedicated to empowering refugees and amplifying their voices together. That team is CWS’s Organizing Team. We are not only a team, but a family. Our personal stories inform our involvement in this work. We are refugees, immigrants, have immigrant family members, or are driven to share the gospel of peace, love, and charity.

I am looking forward to taking all the skills I learned from the retreat and applying them to empower my community and refugee friends who are looking forward to a sustainable and better life. I cannot wait to see my colleagues and team again soon and spend even more time together.