One evening a month I lead volunteer orientation here at CWS in Durham, N.C. College students, retirees, moms with young children, immigrants and many others surround the table to learn about refugees. I am always impressed by the incredible enthusiasm of our volunteers to get involved with refugees – people they’ve never met, whose languages they don’t speak. Before the formal presentation, we each go around and share our names and how it is that we got interested in this kind of work. People share about finding their feet as newcomers here in North Carolina, about classes they’ve taken and about the desire to learn about new cultures and languages. When it comes to my turn, my mind always travels back to my first experience outside of the United States – studying abroad in Mukuno, Uganda.
As an American college student in Uganda, I was continually welcomed. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone saying, “Karibu! You are most welcome.” Whether I was out running on the dusty road around campus, riding on a group taxi to Kampala, drinking tea with my host mom, or wringing out my dirty laundry in the little field by the dorm, I was made to feel at home. One student invited me every Sunday after church to come to her dorm room and eat biscuits with her. Even though she was herself being sponsored by a parish priest and had little to share, she always went out of her way to welcome me.
Like so many people who’ve known what it is to be a foreigner abroad, I returned home with a desire to extend the welcome I received. I have found the space to do this through my work at Church World Service’s Immigration and Refugee Program here in Durham. As the Community Resource Coordinator for our office, my job is to connect refugees with volunteers, educate the community about the work that we are doing, and to be a face of welcome.
Volunteers come to CWS with many different life experiences, but they share with me a desire to help our newest neighbors. Here at our office they do this through teaching ESL classes, taking clients to appointments, donating blankets and household goods, or by simply helping out around the office. These small tasks don’t require spending a lot of money or travelling around the world, but they are a sign that every newcomer recognizes – this is welcome.
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, Community Resource Coordinator, CWS-RDU