This past Sunday, a group gathered at Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center for a five-hour workshop on the leadership of community organizations and faith groups who want to play a key role in welcoming refugees to Westchester County. Together with Catholic Charities Community Services, HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society), Westchester Refugee Task Force, and others, we discussed the work of welcoming our neighbors, caring for our global family, and protecting and sheltering women and children.
A twelve-year-old spoke about her Bat Mitzvah project focused on connecting refugees. Muslim women spoke about how to best reach out to refugees specifically, like where to help them find clothing or food. Representatives from Catholic Charities Community Services and HIAS spoke about the current state of refugees in America, what we can expect, and how we might help.
Overall, the spirit was positive, inspiring. It was a gathering of people who truly seek to help. We sat down with some of the attendees over dinner and discussion and asked why they chose to attend the workshop. Their answers are below.
I’m Here for My Daughter’s Future
“I really care about this issue. I feel like we can’t just care only about our country; we live in a global world! In order for us to ensure a peaceful life for our children, we need to take care of each other.” -Robin Friedman
In Our High School, We Live in a Bubble
“i joined because, last year, I went on a student exchange trip to Germany, and the school we went to was working closely with refugees. There was a refugee at their school and they were helping him to integrate into society. I spent time with him and his story was really touching. So, when I got back to the United States we decided to start a club for refugees.
In Scarsdale, we live in a bubble. We don’t hear about the problems of the world. The fact that refugees went through these problems is moving; we as students need to understand that these problems are real, and these people are not just numbers.” -Anandita Singh
“I’m a member of Scarsdale Students for Refugees, which is a club in my high school that helps refugees with culture shock. We can’t host any families personally in Scarsdale because everyone says it’s too expensive and it’s an area that’s not very suitable for people who are starting out here.
I joined Scarsdale Students for Refugees because I come from another country, too. I came here when I was young, and I know that being accepted into another community is so important. It’s really significant that we, especially students, try to help or even promote awareness. As people of the community, we should support refugees.” -Vivianne Ong
I Had My American Dream; They Should, Too
“I came to America thirty years ago. So, if I get the chance of having my American dream come true, why can’t they? Everybody has equal rights. I want to do my part.”
I Want to Tell a Different Story
“I personally believe that we should be doing more. I have been frustrated by the claim that ‘This isn’t a place to settle refugees because it’s too expensive.’ I don’t feel that’s true. I have been encouraged by our actions to come together and [create a new narrative].” -Larry Roadman
I Have Experienced War
“I’m here because I have experienced war and I can give a first-hand testimony of what it is to live under a time of war. I didn’t have the same experience as refugees, but I can imagine what they go through. I know what it is to feel that my sense of humanity is not complete.
The story of humanity isn’t isolationist. We should be there for all. We should cry when our brothers and sisters cry, no matter which part of the world they’re from. We cannot be happy if some of us have no chance to live our lives. Our humanity is reduced if we don’t have a sense of caring for other human beings.” -Chisara Alimole
One Person Can Make a Difference
“Aristedes de Sousa Mendes was a Catholic who rescued thousands of people during World War II. He was a Portugese consul stationed in France during a time when Portugal issued a directive to all its diplomats to deny safe haven to refugeees. Sousa Mendes chose to defy these orders and issued visas to many thousands of people. One of the people he rescued was my father.
My father was a refugee from Poland, and he turned out to be a wonderful American who raised four happy, blessed children. The story of Sousa Mendes means that one person can make a difference. Now, I’m hoping to be able to give back to those who need a helping hand when they get here.” -Leah Sills
If that’s not inspiring enough, the evening ended on this note from Mary Refling of the Westchester Refugee Task Force:
”People are afraid of bringing refugees into Westchester county because, sometimes, the transition doesn’t work. Sometimes, the PTSD is too great. To me, it’s worth the risk. Giving people the opportunity to build their lives from scratch is a great American tradition. It’s worth the risk.”