Hope. Many refugees have only the clothes that they are wearing and the hope that they will have the opportunity for a better life for their family. Della Lamb Refugee Resettlement Director Abdul Akbar told about his journey as a refugee who came to America, saying “my village in Somalia was attacked, our homes were burned, and many of my family and friends were killed.”
“I fled with the hope that I would survive and make it to a safe place,” he said. “On my walk to Kenya I hoped that I would find food and water to continue my trip.
“I hoped that I would not be eaten by a lion. I hoped that I would make it to Kenya and to a refugee camp, where I would be safe.
“I hoped that I would be one of the few who would be allowed to go to America to live a better life.”
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Abdul did make it to America and now devotes his life to helping refugees and other underprivileged succeed in Kansas City. The immigrants coming to live here only want what we all desire: a safe place to live, food on the table, an education for our kids and a job to be able to support our families.
As a volunteer and board member with Della Lamb, I have met and tutored many wonderful people who have come from all over the world to live in Kansas City. During a morning English class that I was leading, I asked an African woman how many children she had.
She said that she had 10, and five are still alive. I then asked her sister the same question and she said that she had 10 children, and three are still alive.
Hearing this I felt a pain in my chest and I had to fight back tears. I was momentarily speechless. I could not imagine the pain that these mothers had endured in their lives because of famine or war in their home country.
It made me thankful for having grown up in America and thankful that I am able to help these people in a small way to find a better life. I have tutored immigrants who are studying to take the test to become U.S. citizens.
They must be able to read and write in English and be able to answer 100 questions about U.S. history and government. The evening classes were scheduled from 6-8 p.m.
One student who came regularly and worked hard on his studies always left 30 minutes early. I asked why. He said he had to leave for his job at a St. Joseph factory at 4:30 a.m.
This is an example of the strong desire these immigrants have to become a part of American society. Last month Della Lamb was asked to resettle a family who are the first Syrians to be brought to the United States by the State Department as a part of the plan to expedite 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next six months.
This family had fled the war in Syria and had lived as refugees in Jordan for three years. Della Lamb recently met them at Kansas City International Airport, settled them into a new home and served them a culturally appropriate hot meal that evening.
The family is eager to start learning English and about the American culture. The newcomers want to work toward achieving the American dream.
I hope Kansas City will welcome these immigrants with compassion and help them to succeed in their new country.
Hal Havens of Lenexa is chairman of the Della Lamb Community Services board. He is an architect with BRR Architecture and has two grown children and three grandsons.