An interview with Javier:

Why did you migrate?

The 1980’s and early 1990’s was a tumultuous time in Peru. Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist revolutionary group, and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru – MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), a Marxist-Leninist group, wreaked havoc in the Andean region and the capital city in its attempt to overthrow the government. Bridges, power plants, tunnels and buildings were constant targets of terrorist events. Thousands of innocent people died as a result of an escalating war between these revolutionary groups and the military. Curfews and blackouts became common, and schools and universities were often closed as the government attempted to “keep terrorist propaganda” from infiltrating young minds.

In this climate, there was little hope for young people to get an education, and young men feared turning eighteen because of the mandatory conscription laws in effect. As a twelve year old boy, my future at home looked bleak.

A relative of mine had migrated to the United States in the late 80’s and in 1994 obtained my father’s permission for me to move with him. So, at the age of 12, leaving family and friends behind I boarded a plane headed northward. As I crossed the continent my father’s words reverberated in my heart, “you leave as the hope for our family. Do not let anything get in the way of your education.”

How has your faith sustained you during your transition?

Leaving my entire family left a huge void in my heart. The emptiness and loneliness experienced were slowly overcome by the consolations that God sent my way through the Church and friends that surrounded me. Soon after arriving, I became involved in the church, assisting as an altar server with my friends. I met a couple priests and lay women who invited me into small leadership roles in my parish. These experiences nourished my faith and allowed me to see that with God nothing is wasted.

All the obstacles in life I have faced them head on because my faith strengthened and grounded me. To this day I stand because God filled the void in my heart with his overflowing love.

What is your hope?

My hope is that together with my wife we will be able to pass on the faith to our children. God has sustained us both through difficult moments. God has done wonders in our lives, and our son and daughter are the prime examples of God’s tremendous love for us. I hope the love we give them will transmit our faith and help them overcome any and all obstacles in her life.

En Español

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Catholic Charities of Arlington/MRS Fredericksburg initiated a women’s empowerment initiative to help homebound women to supplement their income and to gain English skills and cultural understanding. 15 donated sewing machines were distributed and a training class was provided to 14 women and one male. The women formed a group and selected products to create and sell. MRS employment program assisted the women with identifying local craft fairs where they could display and sell their handmade products. The women hope to grow the business and to develop a website for sales.

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I’ve been waiting all week for today—my opportunity to sit with Syrian refugees. My cab picks me up early in the morning as to avoid the unbaiting traffic in Beirut and beyond. We quickly scale the smog of Beirut and pass through the snowcapped Lebanon mountains. On the eastern side of these peaks lies the Bekaa valley, and less than 20 kilometers further, the boarder with Syria.

I meet with Ramzi Abou Zaid, the Project Coordinator for Caritas Migrant Center in Bekaa.  With over two million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon (a country with a total population around 6 million), Ramzi is overt as he explains the tension between the Lebanese government and the Syrian migrants—the closed boarder, the discontinuation of UNHCR registrations, the raising rent costs and state taxation on the newcomers.  Even with the Caritas programs such as psychosocial support, medical access, cash and in-kind assistance and livelihood projects to increase self-sufficiency, he remains pessimistic that the situation for Syrians will get worse before it ever improves.

After a drive across town, we visit a makeshift camp (called Mataz Camp after the camp’s leader: Mataz) which houses approximately 30 families.  Mataz and his family are Sunni and lived in Aleppo before departing in 2012; in sum, they are a family of 14 (this excludes his mother and sister who were taken by ISIS and have not yet been found).  The consistent airstrikes made them question their presence in Syria and the struggle to keep the family safe eventually forced them out.

As we engage in conversation, Mataz and his father state that they are eager to resettle to the west, but their first choice would be Canada because they’ve heard from friends and seen on the news that the Prime Minister is very welcoming to Syrians.

As Mataz sits in front of his home, which is constructed of brick and plastic UNHCR tarpaulin, he states that his family feels less than human because the very basic needs that they struggle to fulfill day in and day out.  Nonetheless, in a place where hope is in short supply, regardless of what happens with his application for resettlement, Mataz is clear that he still has a dream to return back to Syria one day.  As we drive off, Mataz and his family wave goodbye, continuing another day of waiting for an uncertain future in the Bekaa valley.

-Darwensi Clark, Associate Director, Processing Operations, USCCB/MRS

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Refugees and asylum seekers often witness torture and murder of their families– like Aime Kalangwa, a 21-year-old refugee from Congo who witnessed the slaughtering of his family when he was 14 and narrowly escaped. He wandered through Uganda for two years before finding a refugee camp where he lived for another three years before being registered as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and undergoing comprehensive screening by the U.S. Government. He arrived to the U.S. at 17, knowing little English and having minimal formal education.  He was placed with a foster family through USCCB’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program which provides safe housing for unaccompanied children who are refugees, asylees, and victims of trafficking in settings tailored to each child, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families.  USCCB works hard to not only to protect them and ensure their rights, but also to help each rebuild their lives and achieve their full potential.

Aime studied every day until midnight, graduated from high school with a 3.8 GPA, and now has a dual degree in political science and criminal justice, mentors at-risk youth, and founded a NGO in Uganda to protect refugee children. He finds strength in his faith, and loves America. For the past two years, he has been a youth delegate to the UNHCR-NGO Consultations in Geneva, serving on panels and providing valuable feedback on how to improve the humanitarian response to identification and protection of other child refugees.

-Kristyn Peck is the Associate Director of Children’s Services for MRS

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Cabdi* is from Somalia. He and his family arrived in New York this past summer. Cabdi is fluent in English and worked as a nurse in a medical clinic in the Kenyan refugee camp he and his family lived in prior to resettling in the U.S.  Eager to find a job in the U.S., within days of his arrival, Cabdi began volunteering at the Catholic Youth Organization in Syracuse, helping the Refugee Health Coordinator and employment specialists with clients’ job interviews, by working as an interpreter. In the fall, Catholic Charities received a call from Wilson Dental, a local dentist office looking for refugees who spoke English to work in their clinics. Wilson Dental wanted to hire Cabdi as a way to better serve the growing number of refugees utilizing their clinics. Cabdi was a leading candidate of the employment specialists, and after interviewing, he was offered the job of dental assistant. The staff at the dental office helped Cabdi learn to use the bus to get to work, and he has worked at Wilson Dental since. He still comes to CYO on his days off to volunteer, and his family is in school, learning English and integrating into their new home in Syracuse.

⃰Name and picture changed to protect confidentiality.

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Pierre* A recent client, is a 21-year old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who had worked as an English teacher with his church prior to his resettlement. Near the end of April 2016, he arrived in Baton Rouge with his mother and two younger siblings. Given his young siblings needs, Pierre knew he must take the necessary steps to support his family. In less than two months, after resettling in Baton Rouge, the employment counselor was able to place him in a full time job at a printing company. Pierre completed cultural orientation and easily learned the bus route to and from work. With work going well at the printing company, Pierre felt confident to help assist others. He helped his siblings improve their English over this past summer and has also helped the Baton Rouge resettlement staff with interpretation. Pierre’s story demonstrates the self-sufficiency and resiliency of many refugees who come the United States, as well as the importance of welcoming communities.

*Name changed to protect identity