Written by: Sister Judy Best, SSND
May 31, 2013
Riding into Durham, NC, I was not sure what to expect.
Arriving at Church World Service- RDU sent an immediate energy through us as we
Nuns on the Bus joined their staff. Mary and Kelly discussed their procedures
for welcoming refugees. First, the State Department assigns refugees to Durham.
Second, CWS staff or volunteers welcome them upon arrival. Third, they are
invited to learn English at ESL classes, where 10 interpreters are available.
CWS walks refugees through the basics such as healthcare services (like how to
call a doctor and make an appointment, when to call 911, or go to urgent care
After an informative discussion with staff, we were
invited to meet with clients for five minutes at a time, using a script to
begin a conversation and practice English.
One of my partners was a beautiful
16-year-old girl Nor from Iraq. Our conversation began awkwardly, and then I
realized she understood English well. At a certain point, the electricity
between us created a spark. I saw in her such potential. She shared her hopes
to become a dentist and go to medical school. She knows Arabic, Korean, and English.
Nor has such gifts to bring to the community of Durham.
One of the essentials of the CWS program is the
invitation to new clients to volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Mary and Kelly
explained that often, new arrivals are lonely and bored, not having
relationships outside their families. A CWS volunteer goes with them to the
soup kitchen, and shows them how to make food like grilled cheese sandwiches
for 200 people.
Often, they help serve what they have prepared. The staff tells
them that volunteering is part of being an American, and often, the client is
for the first time on the giving side of a relationship, so grateful to be in
this situation: giving rather than receiving.
We then had a short press conference outside, where about
75 enthusiastic supporters listened to our encouragement for immigration reform
now. As we left Durham, I felt such a wave of gratitude. Being a Nun on the Bus
is giving me new hope that we can pool our energy for immigration reform now.