In class yesterday, while discussing Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey, I couldn’t help but quote Ruben Garcia, the founder of El Paso’s Annunciation House, on how the poor, even those in other countries, are intimately connected to us, whether we choose to take responsibility for it or not. I met Ruben back in 2014, on my cross-country road journey for my book project, The Whole Service Trip – and Ruben certainly provided more than his share of strong material. On top of the economic and political connections our world has to that of the poor, there is the spiritual and moral connection. “The God of the scriptures,” Ruben asserted, identifies most with the poor. Thus, he argued, “the poor are our opportunities for holiness. What the poor have to offer us is nothing less than our own redemption.”
This year it seems that as a nation, we’re moving farther from that redemption, at least in terms that Ruben Garcia would recognize. Recent travel bans against immigrants serve as one of many prime examples from the first two months of the Trump presidency. Yet even with odds stacked against them, local individuals and groups keep fighting the good fight, as do, of course, the immigrants they serve.
Take Kaska Yawo and his colleagues at Catholic Charities, working to support refugees as they make new homes in Worcester. In today’s Telegram, Kaska and others discuss the challenges faced by refugees and those seeking to help them. Kaska, who came here as a refugee himself, has gone on to become a U.S. Citizen, helped countless people – and co-founded African Community Education, the agency where I happen to volunteer. So I’ve seen firsthand the ways that, even in times when brutal indifference and outright hatred seems to permeate the atmosphere, refugee kids and their families make slow but steady headway in carving out a life in a new country. As does the Worcester Refugee Assistance Project, Southeast Asian Coalition, and numerous other agencies who could our help and, in the process, allow us the privilege of connecting with people who, in all probably, have overcome far more than us.
You can help refugees in far more ways than you know. Obviously, you can protest loudly against inhumane policies. Reading the above link to the Telegram article might make you want to do just that. But if you’re not inclined toward that kind of confrontation, simply volunteer at one of these agencies. You may not feel you have much to contribute, but I’m betting you do.
Take tutoring. You may consider yourself untraveled and unskilled in other languages, or feel that you haven’t been trained in how to tutor academic subjects. But if you speak the native tongue and knowing the local culture, you can help someone new to this country in more ways than you can probably imagine. Besides, some of the most powerful moments come when a student sees a tutor who doesn’t have all the answers right away – and then works with the tutor to get there together. Not to mention all the times a child from some other country, one who lacks confidence in negotiating anew world, realizes that s/he has plenty to teach us, too.
I’m sure Ruben Garcia would agree.