Growing up, I spent most of my summers traveling to different countries to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. My drives to school never ceased to remind me of this passion due to an apartment complex nestled in the trees of Raleigh, North Carolina. Every time I drive by, I catch a small glimpse of the vast diversity of peoples, cultures, and beliefs. This is an excellent opportunity to spread hope to the nations of the world four minutes away from my home without a two-thousand-dollar plane ticket. The more I learned about Refugee Hope Partners and their mission, the more it captivated me. My goal in this ethnographic study is to explore what it means for refugees to adjust culturally in Raleigh, North Carolina and to discover how Refugee Hope Partners is impacting the community of Cedar Point
II. Background Information
The Cedar Point Apartment complex is the first point of contact for families from Uganda, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria seeking refuge in the United States due to political and national unrest in their homelands. Others have been exiled from their own country. The UN Refugee Agency explains why refugees leave their country: “war and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries” (UNHCR, 2020, p.1). Refugee Hope Partners is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to “love our refugee neighbors with the hope of the gospel in partnership with the local church” (Refugee Hope Partners, about page). They have many programs to help kids with homework, teach adults ESL, and promote health with the medical ministry. This organization is one of many agencies that seeks to benefit communities of refugees by building relationships (Eby et al. 2011).
III. Observations and Analysis
As I walk through the rocky path of the Cedar Point apartment complex on September thirtieth at 12:30 PM, I overhear some type of African music playing through the apartment to my left. I walk into the community center, which lies in the heart of the apartments, and notice a woman helping two young boys with their schoolwork. I ask a staff member of Refugee Hope Partners if I can interview a member of their community. She kindly introduces me to Abdul, who is a nine-year-old boy from Afghanistan. He moved to the United States two years ago, and when I ask him how adjusting to the language has been, he tells me that learning English has been hard, but normal. The shortness in his answers displays either his lack of knowledge of English or his inability to express his thoughts.
Abdul mentions that he likes school in America and he even enjoys online learning better than in person. Perhaps it gives him more freedom to play outside with his friends or he is more comfortable behind a screen as he adjusts to this new culture. Abdul mentions that paying for the airplane tickets to North America was difficult for his family demonstrating the influence and stress that the parents have towards money.
After interviewing Abdul, I observe a few of the kids in class and others working on homework. I notice a little boy wearing camo pants, a t-shirt, and nearly broken flip-flops. Restless and impatient, he sits on the borrowed computer and listens to his teacher. He struggles to keep his mask on and stay focused because all the kids around him are also in class. He asks in broken English halfway through his class, “I go home please?!” It is difficult for these students to learn and have motivation for school while online. I cannot imagine the struggle for a non-native speaker of English trying to learn online. Even though these kids may be struggling with school, they still have joy in their attitudes.
I wander around the lively complex on an October, Thursday morning and come upon the playground. I notice a teenage Afghan boy swinging with a little African girl. This is a place where children of all ages and origins have one thing in common—this is home now. The countries they came from were dangerous, but now they have freedom and refuge. A staff member directs me to the door of a family who has been in the United States for three years and after I knock, a woman welcomes me into her home. Rashewa is from Afghanistan and has two young kids. Although she is not employed now, back in her home country she was a news anchor and journalist. After marrying her husband, she switched to working with the government as an executive security of public health. Intrigued by how educated she is, I continue to ask questions.
I learn that she is studying business administration and her husband is studying accounting. Right now, their whole family is doing virtual classes. She describes how hard it is because her children cannot talk or play with their classmates and they sit on a computer all day long. When I ask her what the benefits of joining the Cedar Point community are, she comments, “Refugee Hope Partners is a great place. It has a value on every immigrant’s life. They helped my family learn English. The teachers are kind and great people.” The hardest adjustment for her is that she had everything in Afghanistan. They had a job, an apartment, a good salary, but now they lack jobs and must do more school to support their family. As I leave, she offers me an apple to take home which displays the hospitality of her culture.
Identity is important in this community because the refugees living here desire to represent their country and culture. Hearing how Abdul and Rashewa have developed in areas of English and education reveals one of the many ways Refugee Hope Partners has influenced the Cedar Point Apartments. It is important for Refugee Hope Partners to build relationships with the resettled peoples because many of them need help with basic needs such as healthcare, schooling, and employment. However, Refugee Hope partners contributes to their greatest need, Jesus Christ, by offering Bible studies and by devoting their lives to the community. The refugees are not coerced into attending the studies to receive other forms of assistance, but they are welcomed and accepted no matter what they believe. If I had the chance, I would want to learn more about how the religions in the community and if the refugees are able to express their beliefs free of judgement.
I have gained a fresh, yet minuscule understanding of the life and hardship as a refugee living in Raleigh, North Carolina. It means showing your culture, it means living without fear of persecution, and it means being welcomed by people who care about you. Most of the refugee families ultimately move from the apartments and find better employment and housing. One of my suite-mates at UNC Chapel Hill grew up at Cedar Point and is thriving at an esteemed university which exemplifies the work and benefits of this community. No matter where in the world the refugees end up, the staff and volunteers hope that they have impacted the lives of these families.
Eby, J., Iverson, E., Smyers, J., & Kekic, E. (2011). The faith community’s role in refugee resettlement in the United States. Journal of Refugee Studies, 24(3), 586–605. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/fer038
Refugee hope partners. (n.d.). Refugee Hope Partners. Retrieved October 8, 2020, from https://www.refugeehopepartners.org/about
What is a refugee? Definition and meaning | usa for unhcr. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/
Featured Image Source
Johansen, Anna. (2020). [Digital photograph]. Hope Award Refugee Hope Partners. Retrieved October 14, 2020 from https://worldandeverything.org/2020/09/hope-award-refugee-hope-partners/