Reaching Out

Our mission:

We are coming together to find the most effective and efficient way to respond to the resettlement of refugees within the Glen Ellyn community. Our goal is to help families by providing emergency assistance, help families to move from newly arrived status to self-sufficiency, and develop a service providers’ network and listing. Throughout this process, we strive to support leadership development within the refugee community..

The ‘We’ refers to a committee, albeit a so-far nameless one, that’s come together and comprises both agencies and individuals who were already helping refugees in our town of Glen Ellyn. Many of the refugees have been plucked from the throes of violence in their home country’s.

What amazes me is not that there are volunteers getting together to help the less fortunate, but that there are so many of them dedicating countless, consistent hours to the cause. It gives me hope that there is still goodness in this world, especially when I consider how many people have been uprooted from their homes. According to recent estimates from the U.S. Committee for Refugees, there are 12 million refugees and asylum seekers throughout the world, and 21 million internally displaced persons in need of protection and assistance. In 2005, more than three million people became newly uprooted from their homes and/or countries. These numbers do not include the millions who are “internally displaced ( IDP’s)” Countries in which persecution, armed conflict, or widespread violence have internally displaced the largest numbers of civilians include Sudan which tops the list. Although IDPs share many characteristics with refugees, they are not protected by international refugee law because they remain inside their own countries.

The numbers are staggering. It hits you even harder when you think that there are human beings, with babies and children, hopes and dreams, fears and doubts behind those statistics. Homelessness, fear, hunger, poverty, wounds, pain, death for them aren’t things they read about it the papers. It is their life. That we are able to help the refugees in Glen Ellyn, I suppose, is our way of providing a drop of help in an ocean of trouble.

This larger, nameless committee has divided itself into sub-committees, each to plan, develop and work on an integral aspect of refugee assimilation. Trust Americans to be ever so organized. Two ladies and myself decided to work on transportation. Like Muscat, without transport one is stranded here. Be alien to the language and culture here, like the refugees are, and you’re even worse off.

The Transport Committee is now in the process of putting together a list of volunteers to drive the refugee families to and from Doctor appointments or groceries or driving tests or what have you. Approximately five volunteers will be assigned to each family, so no one person gets overburdened. Volunteers have the flexibility to commit to only to the number of hours they are comfortable with. They and the refugee family will set up a time and date that is mutually agreed upon for errands and such, preferably a week in advance at least. This is just one program that the Transportation Committee will oversee. We are still in the process of fleshing out all its components. Some of it will include Rules of the Road and How to Drive in Snow.

The committee is still "under construction" and we’re hoping to find others – at least three more – to spearhead it. There will be some meetings, but not more than once a month, to determine the shape and form that the committee will take. We will definitely have one refugee on it too so that we guide its work in the right direction vs. based on assumptions.

As part of the Transport Committee, we are also collecting car donations and cash donations for car repairs, car title changes, car insurance and driving lessons. Tax deduction receipts will be given for cash donations as well as car donations. Both can be made out to MSI ( Muslim Society Inc.), 1785 Bloomingdale Road Glendale Heights, 60139. As for the cars, we hope not to get something that is too much of a lemon and will last at least 2 more years. All donors have to, in writing, explain exactly when the car was last serviced, all the repairs made to it, when the battery and tires were replaced last, and what repairs still need to be made. We need to know what is wrong with the car so that we know if it's worth fixing or not.

This committee is a beginning but one which, for me, is grounded in two years of volunteering in various capacities with the refugees. By God’s grace, I’ve reached a stage where people who are interested in helping the refugees contact me to find out what they can do. Many hands make light work and I pray there is a ripple effect and many who pitch in.

Last week, a donated car needed repairs. The refugee man to whom it had been given, as a result, had no ride to and from work. I decided to take him back and forth that day. The only catch was that it meant I pick him from work at midnight, since he works the second shift. And I did. Later, I was talking about it with my mother and like I said to her, all I could think of as I dropped and picked him up was, how fortunate I was to be in my shoes and not his. How fortunate yet how often ungrateful for my warm car, gloved hands, snug jacket, being literate in English, roof over my head, food on the table, healthy children and my ability to lend a helping hand instead of being dependent on irregular hand-outs and struggling from day to day.

There is a saying of the Prophet Mohammed’s, Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him, that says, remember God in your good times and He will remember you in your bad times. That night, as I drove down empty roads, past snow piled on pavements, and blinking red signals, I couldn’t help but ask God to count my actions. To save me from the tests of harsher days, tests which He has promised will come everyone’s way.