Pam Simon, a community outreach representative of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and longtime friend of Iskashitaa, gave a speech at the 2011 Arizona Refugee Resettlement Conference on September 8th. Her speech was extremely dynamic and eloquent, speaking to the challenge many refugees face when adjusting to life in a new country, how the Tucson community can assist in this adjustment and finally, how much cultural exchange, dialogue and a realization of shared experiences can happen when volunteers and refugees work together.
Pam mentored a family from Africa and shared how powerful meeting with a family can be. "I take very little credit but a friend of mine became that one person that made a difference in the life of our African family."
She helped them get library cards, make trips to the food bank, sign up for boys and girls club, get a physical for soccer, and figure out the bus routes to adult education classes. A year and a half later, the boys all speak excellent English and are getting good grades. One boy is looking forward to college and being able to help support the family. They have dreams that could never even been considered in a refugee camp.
"Knowing this family has been a gift in my life and I share this story with neighbors, friends and relatives. To be a volunteer is a small investment of time with incredible rewards on both sides."
She also spoke to the ways that the community can get involved into the lives of refugees, whether it is a big commitment or small. "My call to action is that we must share the story of the refugee. Whether it is a church, civic group or business we need to share the joy of being involved with these amazing people who share our communities. Maybe all someone needs to be a volunteer is someone else saying, 'I will go with you.'"
Pam's words inspired all of us at Iskashitaa to keep doing what we love, which is working with refugees, listening to their stories, and learning from them. We encourage you to get involved with us to continue the collaboration and exchange. Come harvest and learn Nepali from Bhutanese refugees, cook recipes from Iraq, learn how to basket weave the Burundian way, or become a family mentor and visit with a family each week. Contact the volunteer coordinator if you are interested in learning more about our opportunities.