Durham, NC - Site Visit

Our Visit in Durham, North Carolina

Written by: Sister Judy Best, SSND

May 31, 2013

Riding into Durham, NC, I was not sure what to expect. Arriving at Church World Service- RDU sent an immediate energy through us as we Nuns on the Bus joined their staff. Mary and Kelly discussed their procedures for welcoming refugees. First, the State Department assigns refugees to Durham. Second, CWS staff or volunteers welcome them upon arrival. Third, they are invited to learn English at ESL classes, where 10 interpreters are available.

CWS walks refugees through the basics such as healthcare services (like how to call a doctor and make an appointment, when to call 911, or go to urgent care instead). After an informative discussion with staff, we were invited to meet with clients for five minutes at a time, using a script to begin a conversation and practice English.

One of my partners was a beautiful 16-year-old girl Nor from Iraq. Our conversation began awkwardly, and then I realized she understood English well. At a certain point, the electricity between us created a spark. I saw in her such potential. She shared her hopes to become a dentist and go to medical school. She knows Arabic, Korean, and English. Nor has such gifts to bring to the community of Durham.

One of the essentials of the CWS program is the invitation to new clients to volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Mary and Kelly explained that often, new arrivals are lonely and bored, not having relationships outside their families. A CWS volunteer goes with them to the soup kitchen, and shows them how to make food like grilled cheese sandwiches for 200 people.

Often, they help serve what they have prepared. The staff tells them that volunteering is part of being an American, and often, the client is for the first time on the giving side of a relationship, so grateful to be in this situation: giving rather than receiving.

We then had a short press conference outside, where about 75 enthusiastic supporters listened to our encouragement for immigration reform now. As we left Durham, I felt such a wave of gratitude. Being a Nun on the Bus is giving me new hope that we can pool our energy for immigration reform now.