Local Service: Fostering Powerful Relationships

By Laetitia Haddad

October 2018 Issue

     As students at SSSAS, many of us have the privilege to learn a foreign language and can identify the difficulties they pose. For us, the uneasiness we may face within a language class remains in the confines of that room. However, when one is submerged, head first, into a land of differing culture and language, there is no easy escape.

     One way that we can truly impact the lives of others is by teaching English to refugee families here in Alexandria, who find themselves hindered by language and cultural barriers. Dr. Klein, an English teacher here at SSSAS, thoroughly believes that practicing English can bring self-assurance to immigrants who are new to the US.

     “I want them to feel confident enough to venture out into the world, knowing they can hold their own on a bus or in a supermarket,” Dr. Klein explains. “I want them to find their feet in the country, and to know that there are kind people who care about them, here.”

     Dr. Klein’s own grandparents arrived in the US with no English skills, and she wishes to provide a multitude of opportunities for those willing and open to learn English.

     War, violence, and persecution fuel refugee crises in a variety of nations. Of the estimated 25.4 million people who have fled their countries of origin as refugees, two-thirds come from Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, and Myanmar.

Both the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the US define a refugee as “someone forced to flee their country because of violence or persecution”.

     This definition goes on to specify that a refugee must have a well-founded reason for fleeing, be it due to religion, race, political alignment, or war, and as a result, can no longer reside in their country of origin.

     While an international humanitarian crisis may seem to come down to numbers and quantitative solutions, there is a qualitative aspect to the aid that citizens of Alexandria can provide to however many refugee families reside among us. This aid can manifest itself in the form of English classes.

     Through Christ Church Alexandria’s Refugee Ministry, Ms. Kathryn McNamara has been able to coordinate English conversation classes for refugee families. “Everywhere I have been, others have gone out of their way to welcome me,” she remarks. “I want to extend that same sense of welcome to refugees in the United States, many of whom have undergone incredible hardships on their journeys here”.  

     There is a theme of reciprocacy in service that is often overlooked or misunderstood. However, it is the integral backbone upon which effective giving is built.

     Ms. Via, Director of Service Learning here at SSSAS, points out that, “the most effective service is what we do when we’re in real relationship with one another.”

     “The Refugee Ministry is a great example of this,” she explains, “as it grew when members of these [Church] organizations started having real relationships with refugees in our community”.

     On a local scale, Alexandria City resettles anywhere from 25 to 150 refugees annually. In recent years, Northern Virginia has taken in less refugees, which results in Alexandria only resettling a few refugees in 2017. Virginia has taken in less refugees because it requires refugees to have a close relative in the country. In many cases, refugees resettling in Virginia require a Special Immigrant Visa, which is granted to predominately Afghani and Iraqi families who have helped the US Military with operations in their respective countries.

     By connecting and engaging with our communities, we can learn about how to support those who need it the most. While many feel obliged to serve others, effective service provides a multitude of opportunities for individual growth through connection, too, which stretch past obligation.

     This combats the traditional notion that service only gives in one direction, when in reality, there are much greater takeaways on both sides.

     As a mentor, a student, and a friend to others, the effects of volunteering are almost immediately evident, be it through a smile, a laugh, or a phrase well taught. It is incredibly humanizing to form relationships with others, a support system which lifts each person up.

For more information on volunteering, please feel free to email Laetitia at laetitiaha20@sssas.org