Closing the Social Distance from Afar

by Mike Sullivan, Agency Director

How does one close a social distance from afar? And how does our community safely connect to the refugees whom we welcome? And how do we stay connected with our volunteers, who we miss so much?  Refugees and volunteers feel a similar void. Isolation. Let me share some background to the dilemma and what The Welcome to America Project is doing to continue our welcomes.

Newly settled refugees feel liberated, yet isolated. They do not yet have history with the relationships that connect us to community. Their friends, schools, employers and places of worship, all new to them, are suddenly absent from their day-to-day lives. The comforting physical presence of the resettlement agencies is less physically accessible. And once friendly faces now wear masks over their smiles. For many, this uncertainty conjures up feelings they experienced in the early days in refugee camps, feeling sheltered and safe from harm but confused as to what the future holds.

Volunteers also feel a tremendous void. Our body clocks tell us that today is a volunteer day, and we should be doing something to welcome refugees. Warehouse and weekend volunteers miss the camaraderie and sense of purpose their service provides. Like refugees, volunteers are confused about what the future holds and how long this uncertainty will continue. 

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Meet WTAP's Newest Interns
Pamela Stanek was raised by her grandmother in Sawmill, a small town on the Navajo Nation. She is a current reservist for the United States Army, where she has been serving for almost 9 years. She transferred from Chandler-Gilbert Community College to Arizona State University to pursue a degree in Educational Studies. She chose to intern with The Welcome to America Project because she “wanted to be a part of an organization to help build strong relationships with refugees.” Pamela has a lifelong passion for helping others, and she says, “I believe it is important to help those in need because a helping hand can go a long way - it gives hope for a better tomorrow.” During her time with The Welcome to America Project, she hopes to learn more about the resources that exist for refugees and refugee children. She wants to learn more about how she can help refugee children because she believes “education is important for everyone no matter where you come from.” After graduation, Pamela plans to retire from the military and pursue her own education center or nonprofit organization on the Navajo Nation. 
Salem Bahoqiba was born in Hadramout, Yamen. He is a senior at Arizona State University majoring in Global Studies and Political Science. He chose to intern with The Welcome to America Project because welcoming and supporting refugees aligns with work encompassed in his Global Studies program. In addition, he said this opportunity “would help me get more experiences understanding culture differences, and it would improve my efficiency and productivity in my future workplace.” Throughout the semester, Salem hopes to learn more about refugees and improve his understanding of people who come from different cultural backgrounds. After he graduates from ASU, Salem is planning on applying for his master’s degree in Washington, D.C.
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