The following is a reflection written by Andrea Curnes, a St. James Academy high school student who volunteered with our Refugee School Impact (RSI) Summer Program. The program collaborates with community partners, other Catholic Charities’ programs and volunteers to help prepare newly arrived refugee children for school in America.
I had an incredible experience working with Catholic Charities for their Refugee School Impact (RSI) Summer Program 2018. My eyes were completely opened to the hardships that so many refugee families are faced with when they come to the States. The vast majority of the information covered in the program were things I had never considered to be problems before. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to have met these kids because it drastically changed my perspective on the refugee crisis in America.
This camp taught me things about immigrant families that I hadn’t ever considered. For example, in America, we are familiar with dogs and are incredibly comfortable with them, many of us owning more than one. I was truly shocked by how frightened many of the kids were by the dog that came in to visit. Wild, rabid packs of dogs are commonplace in many of the countries where these families are coming from. It was remarkable how something so ubiquitous in our society had such a different meaning for people from another culture.
Another moment that truly shocked me was a conversation had during snack time one day. It was mentioned that there is a staggering number of drowning incidents each year in the refugee community. The number of children and teenagers that die from drowning each year was astounding to me. It makes sense that these kids would feel comfortable around water, because wading in rivers and small pools of standing water is part of day to day life. However, because of this, swimming is a skill many children never learn. Concurrently, many parents can’t afford to give their children lessons because the cost of swimming education is so high. Furthermore, swimming lessons can be inaccessible altogether due to the lack of pool space and instructors or the ability of families to get to lessons. This truth saddened me so deeply, because swimming is something I love to do and I believe is a vital life skill. It has really inspired me to look into volunteering my time in this area in the future.
Overall, the experience I had at this camp was truly transformative. My eyes were completely opened to the hardships these families face every day. I can’t imagine having to uproot my entire life and relocate to a country with entirely different language and culture. The barriers these people have to overcome is inspiring and I applaud their bravery so much. I genuinely hope I can continue to work with people in the refugee community to help ease their suffering in hopes of giving them a better life.