One of my American friends recently learned more about the challenges refugees face while relocating to a new city and she told me she wanted to help out in some way. I prayed about it for a week or two- not sure exactly what we needed- and then I came up with an idea which we are going to do today.
What I've noticed is a lot of refugee children that aren't yet going to school (usually 3 years old and younger) stay home instead and spend a lot of time watching TV.
There are no books in the house and they live in cultural enclaves, where no English is spoken. We've been reading to Winnie and Piper since they were born! Kids need this! And it's fun.
So we got a bunch of donated books and we are going to knock on doors and ask if people want their toddlers to hear stories. This could be kind of awkward or kind of great. Guess we'll see how this goes!
Last week I had this thought: if I want my daughters to be women of faith, the practice of my faith ought to be more visible than invisible to them. I want them to grow up and marvel at how our family's life unfolds, knowing God because of it. How do we do this? I know oftentimes God is showcased when people's needs are met.
New Life Maternity had some stroller requests last week of which we arranged meetings for- but we didn't actually have any give-away strollers. So I sat down with Winnie and asked her if she wanted to pray. We said a short earnest prayer for some strollers to come to us before our first arranged meeting today at 10:00.
And guess what showed up at our house today at the 10:00 hour, randomly? A stroller! And guess what our neighbor had and wanted to give us today also at the 10:00 hour? Another stroller! On top of yesterday when a friend swung by to drop off a...stroller!
God cares. God cares about the newly arrived Syrian family of 5 (they got a double stroller!) and the 17-year old Burmese mother and... you and me- whatever our "stroller" may be.
I'm excited for my girls to learn this and see this. In the meantime we've got some stroller drop-offs to do!
We had our first "Mothers' Circle" on the grass outside the library in the center of City Heights. We had 4 women come and a Swahili interpreter. It's our next step for New Life Maternity; to invite refugee moms to come and share their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood both here and in their home country.
"For a new mother in my home country Somalia, we treat her like a queen- we all cook for her, take care of her, she can relax and stay in so that not even the wind would touch her...for 40 days! Being a mother in the U.S. is not easy. I have 11 children but the last were born here, I had to go back to work after 6 weeks and everyone is too busy working to help each other."
We are planning to continue these mothers circles, in an informal setting, with no agenda except building relationships, trust, and a better idea of what the true needs are of local refugee women. Starting in June Mara-Diana and I will facilitate this regularly, and we invite any locals or refugees interested to join us!
At the end of the meet-up we were secretly wondering if it had gone well or not (from the women's perspective). There were questions we wanted to ask or go deeper on, the sun was kind of bright and in our eyes, it was cold out, at times a few of them looked disinterested. We handed out little presents with diapers, wipes, and baby clothes and started to head home.
But we were really encouraged when one of the mothers said enthusiastically at the end "this was really great- I need to tell more women about this! More would love to come!" And the interpreter emailed us saying, "When this pregnant mother came to the group she was full of fear about her upcoming birth, but now that you have explained a few things she says she will be able to rest at night because she understands more now, so thank you."
This was all we needed to hear to want to keep going.
Winnie (15 months old) and I were sitting in our living room when she grabbed shoes for us both and pointed at the door. "I want to go!"
"Where do you want to go?" I asked.
"I want to go!"
We put on the shoes and went outside and she went straight to our car and pointed. "I want up!"
I wasn't planning on leaving the house but she was so resolute and we had a free afternoon so I put her in her car seat and started driving. "Where are we going?" I asked again. She looked excited.
I drove for about a mile and then came up with my own mission: an oreo shake from Jack in the Box. I'm 35 weeks pregnant, this had yes written all over it. Except that I missed my turn and ended up on a random side street, and then had to stop and wait for a woman to very slowly cross the road.
"She looks uncomfortable" I thought. "And very pregnant".
And then as she walked a little closer I noticed it was a woman one of the volunteers, Michelle Arthur and I made a home visit to. We've been trying to see her again but have been missing each other.
I rolled my window down and she immediately recognized me. "Come with me!" I said.
She got in my car and I took her to finish her errand, grocery shopping. While Winnie and I waited outside, I pulled out my google translate and asked it if she wanted to come shop for free baby goods in our garage shop. Just the day before Michele and I spent some time organizing the shop back into a presentable state. We got so many donations that week it looked a complete wreck, but on this day it looked good enough for a visitor. We dropped her huge bags of rice and flour off at her house first and then went straight to my house, marveling at the perfection of how this afternoon had been orchestrated. What appeared to be so random, commands by my 15 month old to 'get in a car and go!' was actually quite specific; the building of a friendship, seeds of trust being planted in a new land and some important items to welcome a new little life soon.
Elisa found our website and signed up as a volunteer. She's officially our second volunteer. Today I introduced her to Kedija, a refugee from Ethiopia. We all sat in the garage and talked about motherhood, the USA, and Ethiopia.
Kedija loves it here saying "America is good". When we asked her 'why'- she had a lot of reasons. The one she returned to again and again was you don't have to worry every day that your children will be taken from you and turned into child soldiers. I think that's a pretty good reason to love America! And as Americans, do we expect mothers to stay in places where every day children in their neighborhood are being taken by militia?
Kedija has 6 children. When she mentioned breastfeeding always hurts her left upper back, we whipped out a donated breastfeeding pillow (which no one has been interested in up to this point) and Elisa demonstrated how to use this strange contraption while I took a picture. She liked the idea of it and brought one home.
"But more than giving you things" I said "we want to have a friendship". She said, "this program is very nice, you know, it's from God I think. Many refugee women want this. You can come to my house anytime." Then she pointed at us both and said "I can teach you how to be mothers!"
Our mysterious shopper, who wished to remain anonymous, had 5 babies in her home country and had no issues with each delivery. All were normal vaginal deliveries. She had a baby in the U.S. two years ago and "they cut me because the baby's head was not coming down". She's pregnant again and seems apprehensive about what will happen this time.
There is a huge fear of c-sections here, particularly among Somali women, which translates into a fear of the hospital and of giving birth and a general sense of fear leading up to their delivery. For anyone, but particularly a person who has lived through an unreasonable amount of trauma, I believe this can be alleviated by providing her an American mentor to partner with her through her pregnancy.
"Would you like an American friend?" I asked.
"Yes, very much. That will help me."
I had a new person contact me, wanting to help out at the "San Diego branch of New Life Maternity". Haha! I told her ain't no branches here; just a garage, my husband, a volunteer - and a city full of refugee women- but...by the way- congratulations- you are our second volunteer and I have a friend for you to meet.
Last night Hamed's wife had their fourth child, a baby boy. I was the lucky one that got to be their labor and delivery nurse. Such a lovely, sweet couple. They told me they were refugees from Afghanistan, they got to San Diego at the beginning of the year. He found a job right away as a driver and has been working hard for his growing family. I told him about New Life Maternity and he jumped at the opportunity to visit... today...after pulling an all-nighter at the hospital... to get a car seat to bring his newborn baby home! Note the general look of exhaustion, all parents of young ones know this too well!
Pleased to announce... New Life Maternity has our first volunteer, meet Michelle! When she first called to ask more about "our organization" I told her it was really grassroots- like straight out of my garage grassroots. But I also mentioned the need. That even though we had only had 2 women come to the shop in the last month- I am certain there are many many more we could reach (we just need to find them!). I asked her if she'd go door-to-door in the neighborhood with me and Winnie, and hand out these nifty pamphlets I made.
On that adventure we met Rosa, a young newly arrived refugee woman from the Congo, who is 7 months pregnant. Rosa only speaks Swahili- so we had a young boy walking by translate a conversation and then told her we'd come back in a few weeks to see her. She was enthusiastic and said we are welcome back anytime.
We went back today... with an early Christmas gift. It was a simple bag- but so meaningful when I think about the love that was inside:
-1 beautiful rainbow blanket made by my mothers friend
-a pack of diapers and wipes our backyard neighbor donated
-fuzzy winter outfits bought new by Redeemer Presbyterian Church
-maternity clothes donated by about 5 different women
(Thank you for your donations!)
And we were able to share a little more about how we'd like to support her, through a one-on-one mentorship with our new volunter. Thanks Jacinta Nduta for translating our pamphlet into Swahili!
Rosa's English speaking friend Carolina stopped by- and was quite surprised to find us in the living room. "This is great!" she said "I have been here for 6 years and I do not have 1 American friend. I think what you are doing is very important. It is very difficult to find an American friend. But we have a lot to learn from you and you can learn a lot from us."
Then Rosa lifted her hands to the sky and said she thanks God for seeing her.
We (Kacie & Mara-Diana) met for the first time at a Thanksgiving dinner for refugees. We quickly realized that we shared a similar vision and dream for working with refugee women!