Wednesday, February 17, 2016

God Willing: A volunteer's experience working with refugees

By Chris Bargeron, currently serving with Dominican Volunteers


They say that if you look at a picture at a different angle, something new will speak to you. Maybe you didn’t catch that shade of blue in the sky when you looked at it before or you didn’t realize the true emotion of someone’s mannerisms until you looked at it in a different angle. Last year when I was serving as an ESL teacher in Chicago, I was moved by this phrase, “Insha’Allah” which means “God willing.” I think I have a different perspective of that phrase after some of my experiences in Atlanta this year.

As an employment specialist, there are a lot of different moving parts that I need to control at the same time in order for a refugee to be happy. “Is that job close to home? Is it accessible by bus? Does it pay well? Can I work second shift?” are a few of the many questions I get asked in deciding if this is a job that a particular refugee wants. It gets tough sometimes— having to reject a refugee’s desires to work in a sushi restaurant because you know that they will not be able to live off of the unjust wages that most workers working in Asian restaurants in Georgia receive. Sometimes, with all my might, prayers and power, I am not able to sway refugees in the direction that I perceive as correct. Are these the type of outcomes that God wills? Am I doing something wrong in not trying harder? There’s an incredible amount of pressure trying not to “drop the ball” on these refugees. At any given time, I am helping out 30-35 refugees, at different points in their lives, find gainful employment in order to be self-sufficient, a term that is highly taken for granted by many people in this country.

I’ve realized that there are many aspects of life that are taken for granted by Americans in general. I have come to this realization on a deeper level after the catastrophic attacks in Paris. I had no idea that I would continue to be mentally impacted by this event for weeks and months afterward.


Here is a photograph I took before the Paris attacks of a wonderful little picture showing Atlanta endorsing the lives of refugees moving and resettling here, making Atlanta their home. It says, “Refugees, Welcome… Bring your families.”



Here is a picture I took of the same place, three days after the Paris attacks.

As I drove past this, my heart sank. Not to mention, I’m living in a country that has condemned not only Syrian refugees, but all refugees. Syrian refugees were being denied to come into this country, to receive benefits, food stamps, to live. I thought, “What a disgusting moment in time for America.”

It was a rough time to wake up every morning and go to work knowing that I might be hated by many, many people that don’t even know me around the country. It was hard for me to also hear that fellow resettlement agencies had received death threats and cryptic phone calls in the weeks following the Paris attacks. I was wondering at the time if God willed these incredulous acts and responses, and if some kind of devastating attack on my resettlement agency would happen because of such hate towards ones that are what, escaping fear themselves and the ones helping them rebuild a new life? I also remembered that God also gave each individual free will. To me, the thought of each person having free will allowed me to be peaceful just the slightest bit and continue my work every day. I know that God will protect not only me but also all of us trying to rebuild the lives of those displaced.

To make it even better, during those 4-6 weeks of what I want to consider as a dark moral time in America, I had the incredible honor to place a Syrian refugee in a job. That was the moment in time that made everything worth it. And it continues to drive my passion to continue to help these refugees gain employment, live a life that they deserve to live and not have to fear anymore.

This is a time in America to become more educated about who lives around us and about the refugees that come to this country to live a better life, to live a life without fear. It is not the time to be shunning the existence of those who haven’t even committed crimes. If things were to turn for the worst in our own country, I’m sure that many of us wouldn’t want to be denied entrance into other countries. I continue to be blessed everyday with refugees that come in with different stories and journeys with the same common goal. They want to be able to provide for their family. They want to be able to know the feeling of living how an average American feels, without fear. So I will continue to advocate for refugees and to be their rock and their helper in their continuing journeys, Insha’Allah. But I know that God will always will my actions.

Chris Bargeron currently serves as a Dominican Volunteer at Catholic Charities Atlanta in Refugee Resettlement as an employment specialist with Dominican Volunteers USA. He lives in community at the Penn Community in Atlanta, GA. For more information about serving with Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here


This post originally appeared on the Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio.