Refugee Zoo
Photo provided by: 
Dorene Wernke

First Steps In America

“Hello.  How are you?”  Such a simple and common phrase in the English language.  However, for non-native English speakers, learning such a simple phrase can take hours of practice.  This was the case for the mother in our first refugee family who spoke no English when she arrived in Minnesota.  During the past few months, she has worked hard to adjust to life in the United States and learn English among many other things.  It has been an exciting and busy time for her family and we are grateful that the Basilica was able to walk alongside them on this part of their journey.

Our first refugee family arrived in Minnesota in February 2016.  Of Somalian descent, the family had previously lived in Kenya in both the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps over the course of the past twenty three years.  The family consists of mother, father and four children--two sons in their twenties and two daughters in their teens.  The parents also have four older children who came to the United States as refugees in previous years and now reside in the Faribault and St. Paul areas of Minnesota.  Since arriving in the United States, the family has been busy adjusting to life in America including, learning to ride the bus, learning how to buy groceries in our large supermarkets, learning to read, write and speak English, adjusting to the Minnesota winter and learning what sidewalks are and how to navigate safely with so many cars around.  The teenage girls have been busy going to school, learning to use a computer, and spending time at the local library.  The sons were also busy looking for work and both found jobs at the Minneapolis St. Paul airport working in the food services area.  They were also able to attend English as a second language classes and met some young people at a local park with whom they could play soccer.

Helping the family along their journey here in Minnesota has been Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and the Basilica’s mentor team.  The mentor team for our first family was made up of four parishioners, Donna Krisch, Dawn Pajunen-Ibes, Alison Rudy and Dorene Wernke.  Working closely with Lutheran Social Services, the mentor team helped our family by taking them grocery shopping, driving the family to doctor appointments, helping them prepare for job searches, and helping them practice their English skills.  They also took the family on fun outings such as a trip to the Como zoo and to parks to watch soccer games.  The mentor team built an amazing relationship with the family over the past few months and the family has reached out regularly for assistance with various items.   If you ask any of our mentors however, they will be the first to tell you that they feel they are really the ones benefiting from this relationship.  The mentors continually say how much they have grown and learned from our family and how deeply meaningful and spiritually nourishing the relationship has been for them.

With many thanks to our mentor team and Lutheran Social Services, our family is well on their way to settling into life in America.  In June 2016, the family received wonderful news that they were able to obtain housing in Faribault, Minnesota and were able to move closer to their three older sons who live in the area.   The family continues to stay in touch with the mentor team and the mentor team is planning a trip to visit the family in their new home soon.

We would like to thank our family mentors, the refugee committee, Lutheran Social Services and the entire Basilica community for their help in co-sponsoring our first refugee family.  This was an amazing experience and we look forward to welcoming our second family in the weeks ahead.



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