Stepping, Determined, into 2018

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Happy New Year, Northwest Arkansas!

We hope you all go the chance to take a break sometime in the last two weeks and spend some time with your families. 2017 was a big year for our community! It was full of challenges to our young refugee resettlement program: three separate refugee travel bans, cuts in federal funding, discouraging words from our elected officials about refugees and immigrants... But despite all that, we made some incredible things happen. Let's do a quick recap, shall we? 

          -We welcomed 55 refugees from 5 countries into our community
          -Students For Refugees hosted an incredible Mock Refugee Camp interactive exhibit, drawing huge crowds and attracting the attention of multiple national news organizations
          -Brightwater helped us throw our first ever Refugee Benefit Dinner-- and it was just as delicious and memorable as it sounds
          -We helped all our refugee adults find jobs-- and even some job upgrades! We now have refugees making an impact as teachers, mechanics, translators and cooks (and lots of other jobs too). 

AND to make it all that much sweeter, we closed out 2017 with an incredible end-of-year giving push:

We blew past our fundraising goal of $15,000 to close out the year with $19,000 in gifts, big and small. We definitely felt the love and our refugee families felt it too. To all of you who gave, we cannot thank you enough. 

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Now it's time to look ahead. We don't know what challenges lie ahead of us this year. We continue to get worrisome signals from our President and other elected officials that they do not support our work-- and we're not sure what that means for us. But whatever happens in Washington, here in Northwest Arkansas, we aren't slowing down! We've got a lot coming in 2018: new programs, new families and new ways for you, our community to get involved in this life-changing work. 

New Programs: We just completed a survey of all of our refugee families to learn where they continue to need assistance and support 6+ months after they arrive. As you all know, we currently only provide direct services to our refugee families throughout our 90-day initial Reception and Placement program-- but we know they still need our support after those three months are over. In our first year, that support has been ad-hoc-- we respond to their needs as they come up-- but in 2018, thanks to the helpful data we gathered from this survey, we are going to roll out several new structured programs that our families can access to help them along their long-term journey toward self-sufficiency and integration. We'll keep you posted on these programs as we roll them out, but for now, we can tell you that they will focus on three key areas: 

  • Ongoing Language and Cultural Training
  • Legal Assistance
  • Mental Wellness

New Families: We are waiting for 75 refugees to arrive in Northwest Arkansas in 2018. We know already 40 of them by name-- some of them, we've been waiting for for over a year. They come from all over the world and have fascinating stories: some have advanced degrees, some are young orphans, some just had babies, some just lost husbands. We watch their stories from a distance and we wonder: do they know how much we love them already? Do they have any idea how eager their community is for them to get here? 

New Volunteer Opportunities: As we roll out our new refugee programs, we're going to need new volunteers, so if you haven't yet, go to our Volunteer Page and create a profile for yourself so that as soon as new opportunities become available, you can sign up for them! 

 Together with you, our community, we are stepping into 2018 determined.

Let's welcome refugees home!

The ones we wait for

It’s been five months since Safi and Watata last saw their son John or their daughter Leticia. On July 4, the two parents faced an impossible choice: they could leave the refugee camp with nine of their children for a new life in the US, but leave behind two of their adult children who were not allowed to travel; or they could stay and keep their family together, but resign their other children to continued squalor in the camp. It was an impossible choice, but Safi and Watata chose to go ahead on to Northwest Arkansas on the promise that John and Leticia would follow right behind.

Five months later, they're still in a camp in Malawi.

A lot has happened in that time. Leticia’s husband died quite suddenly this fall, leaving her alone in the camp with her four children. Across the ocean, Safi and Watata mourned and fretted. One month later, Leticia gave birth to her fifth child. Across the ocean, Safi and Watata danced in their apartment complex garden. With every milestone, the distance has cut into their parent hearts like a knife.

“I just want them to come home,” Safi said. “I just want my children close to me again.”

John. Leticia and her five children. These are the ones we wait for.

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When Safi and Watata first arrived in Northwest Arkansas, they were heartsick. They took little interest in our orientation and training; all they could think about was how much they missed their children. And who could blame them? Still, our director gently tried to help them see that just because they had to wait did not mean they had to be passive. “It is wrong that you have been separated from your children,” she told them. “It is wrong that you should have to wait for them at all. But since you must wait, make the most of every day to prepare a good home for them when they get here. Work hard every day so that when they arrive, they will not have to struggle.” And that is exactly what they have done. They have worked hard to improve their English and have learned how to navigate their new home. Watata found a job and works as many hours as he can get to provide for his family. They are not just waiting; they are preparing.

And we are preparing right along with them.

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This year, we are expecting 75 refugees. We already know 32 of them by name: Ziad, Dareen and their five children; Hussein, Khalsa and their three children; Kazibule, Ntompa and their three children. Chirocy, Kabembo, Josepha… These are the ones we wait for. These are the ones we prepare for.

We prepare by meeting with new landlords to search for their future homes. We prepare by further developing our job readiness curriculum so that the classes they take with us will be our best classes yet. We prepare by training our staff, co-sponsors and volunteers. We prepare by developing new programs to help meet their needs even after their 90-day Reception and Placement program is over (stay tuned for an update on this!). We prepare by meeting with our elected officials to clear the way for them to travel. We prepare.  

All this work is vital to welcoming those 75 refugees that have been promised to us this year—but none of it is financially supported by our government. We only receive government funding after new refugees arrive at our offices, and it's been five months since our last refugee family arrived. So all this work-- everything we do for those who are already here and everything we do to prepare for those who are coming-- can only happen with your support.  

So please. Give a gift this week for Ziad, for Chirocy and for all those whose names we don’t know yet.

Give a gift this week for the ones we wait for.

Home

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From the desk of our director, Emily Crane Linn. 

I remember vividly that moment in the airport when I first laid eyes on our first refugee family. It was just before midnight on the night of December 14, 2016. I remember watching them appear from around the corner—no, I did not wait for them at the bottom of the escalator, by the baggage carousels; I was up on the second floor, with my toes right up against the DO NOT CROSS LINE, as close to their plane as I was allowed to go and wishing I could be closer. I saw them as they came around the corner in a neat little row, the mom on one side, the dad on the other, the two kids in the middle.

I saw them before they saw me. I saw the parents scanning the airport nervously for a sign that they had come to the right place, that there would be someone to show them where to go from here. Their eyes were narrow and afraid, their mouths taut. Then they saw our group with our signs reading “Welcome” in their native language and I watched their faces transform. Relief melted the furrows between their eyebrows and turned the tips of the mom’s mouth into a faint smile. Their journey was over. They were home.

I visited them in their new apartment the next day. Their co-sponsor team had furnished it beautifully, complete with toys for the children and a pantry overflowing with familiar food. It was warm and sunny and smelled like scented candles. The mother greeted me at the door. She was still visibly exhausted, with pronounced rings under her eyes, but her face looked relaxed and her smile was genuinely happy. She told me, “You know, we have only been here a few hours, but already I know that this is home.”

Home.

We take it for granted, but for a refugee family, it is life-changing. A permanent, safe place just for you, that is yours to come back to, yours to decorate, yours to live in for as long as you like. It’s a radical, beautiful gift. On average, a refugee family will wait 17 years for their chance at a home. Many will wait out those long years with only a tarp over their heads, with jerry cans of water in the corner to cook with and bathe with and a mat on the floor as a bed for the children. And all the while, they will wonder if their camp will be attacked, if their children will survive the year, if their food rations will be the same next month or if they’ll have to make do with less. So for those who make it, for those who last the long wait and clear the medical screening and pass the background checks, the simple gift of home changes everything.

A lot goes into creating a home for a refugee family. It usually involves dozens of people from all across the community and starts months before the family arrives. First, Canopy recruits and trains a co-sponsor team for the family. Then, the co-sponsors get to work collecting furniture, fundraising and planning for the family’s arrival. Once Canopy receives the family’s travel info, it’s a mad rush to find an apartment and get it cleaned and furnished in time for the family’s arrival; usually, we all only have about 2 weeks’ notice, but the co-sponsors leap right into action and always do an incredible job! Then, the day of the family’s arrival, our case manager runs through the apartment one last time to make sure everything is ready, the co-sponsors cook up a hot meal for the family and then everyone heads up to the airport to welcome the refugees to their new home.

To date, with the help of our incredible community, we have been able to provide 55 refugees with a safe, comfortable place to call home here in Arkansas. Of course the physical dwelling itself is only the beginning-- refugee resettlement is so much more than a roof and a bed-- but for a family that has known nothing but a tent for the last decade, it is an incredible gift.

Help Canopy continue to give the gift of home to all the refugee families who will arrive in 2018. 

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Building American Dreams

To become a mechanic. To start a company trading in precious stones. To serve in the United States military. To become an imam. To manage a hotel. To get a computer science degree. To become a nurse.

When refugees find out that they get to resettle in the United States, they start dreaming—and they dream big. “When I heard that I was going to go to America, I was so, so excited,” Eca said, “because I heard that America is a place where your dreams can become reality.”

To us, that’s what resettlement is all about: helping refugees build their American Dreams.  

Eca’s dream was to become a mechanic: to start by working on cars and eventually become certified to work on bigger and more complicated pieces of equipment. He had a good head start when he arrived here in Fayetteville last February: he had picked up a lot of English in his 16 years in a refugee camp in Burundi and he had even gotten his mechanic’s certification.

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So when he sat down with Rick, our employment coordinator, to lay out a plan for his new life here, the path forward was pretty clear. Rick explained that he would need to start out in a pretty basic job: something to get him some work experience and an income while he improved his English. Then, as soon as his English was strong enough, he would be ready to apply for mechanic jobs. So that’s what he did: Rick helped him create a resume and taught him how to navigate the US job market, Canopy’s case manager helped him enroll in English classes and his co-sponsor team helped him find a job in housekeeping at Fayetteville hotel.

Within 2 months, Eca was working full-time; his family even stopped receiving state food assistance because they were above the income level. Within 4 months, he had graduated from his English language program and was ready to apply for mechanic jobs. And finally, in his fifth month, he began working as a mechanic for Ozark Regional Transit. Today, 10 months after he first arrived in Northwest Arkansas, he has just been certified as a diesel technician and is working on getting his GED so that he can continue to advance as a mechanic.

Eca’s American Dream is coming true.

Together with our co-sponsors, employers and educators, Canopy is helping 32 other adults take steps toward their American Dreams too. Not everyone’s story is like Eca’s. Some people are still in their first job as they work on their English or work towards getting their drivers’ license or GED. Some are still figuring out what they want for themselves and their families here. But no matter where they’re at, Canopy continues to walk alongside them to offer them resources, advice and encouragement for as long they feel they need it.   

This coming year, help us to continue to bring the dreams of our 32 refugee adults to fruition—and help us launch the dreams of those who have yet to come. Give the gift of empowerment this season.

Childhood Restored

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First the war took *Mary's hearing (* not her real name). She was walking through a Baghdad market with her brother when the bomb ripped through her eardrums, leaving her deaf. Then the war came for her father. A militia took him, so they say. Mary still hopes he is alive somehow and will come find her when the war is over, but she does not know. Finally, the war took away her home. One day, without warning, her mother told her they were leaving for Turkey. Iraq was not safe for them anymore.

Piece by piece, the war tried to destroy Mary's childhood. And for nearly four years, it succeeded.

She lived in a cramped, drafty apartment with her family in southern Turkey. They lived off her brother's meager wages from a nearby bakery and the charity of their Turkish neighbors. She couldn't go to school with her younger sister; no teacher knew how to teach a child who could not hear or speak.  Her mother tried to find a doctor to treat her, but nothing they tried seemed to help. Mary's world was slowly closing in on her.

Until one day-- almost one year ago to the day-- she and her family were allowed to board a plane to Northwest Arkansas. She was greeted outside her new home by her co-sponsor team carrying balloons and signs. Inside, she found toys and clothes in her closet and a warm meal on the stove. A week later, she went to enroll in school, right alongside her younger sister. Two weeks later, she came home from her first day, grinning as she showed her mother how to sign her name, ecstatic to finally be able to communicate again. Six months later, she received a hearing aid and heard her mother's voice for the first time in 6 years.

Mary has been given a new life here. These days, she gets to be a pretty normal 6th grader. She rides scooters with her neighbors up and down the sidewalk of her apartment complex. She dances to Justin Bieber songs with her sister (songs that she can now hear, at least faintly).  She practices forming words with her speech therapist so that maybe one day, in addition to signing, she'll be able to talk a bit too. 

Slowly, Mary's childhood is being restored. 

This past year, Canopy was able to welcome and care for 23 other children just like Mary. Some of them were born and had lived their whole lives in refugee camps. Some were orphaned, having lost both their parents to war. Some had just narrowly escaped a life of gang violence and were joining parents they hadn't seen since they were toddlers. 

With your help, each and every one of these children was able to receive individual attention and care from a Canopy case manager: he let them pinch his hands while they got their shots, he met with their teachers to help craft customized learning plans, he helped them get set up with counselors so that they could start to heal from the trauma they had encountered. Thanks to his careful attention and the hard work of all the volunteers, tutors, teachers, doctors and therapists who have poured into these kids, they are all slowly seeing their childhoods restored. 

This coming year, we are expecting and waiting for 16 more children just like Mary-- and perhaps others we don't even know about yet. During this season of giving, we ask you to give the children who are here and the many children to come the gift of an education and a restored childhood. 

Give Thanks

As you gather with your families around your Thanksgiving tables, please join us in giving thanks:

                For the 55 men, women and children who have brought their gifts, perspectives and tenacity to our community: for the new foods they have fed us, for the overtime hours they have worked, for the businesses they have dreamed up, for the wisdom they have brought us, for their eagerness to serve others. Give thanks. 

                For the 6 families, torn apart by violence, who have been reunited and made whole here: for every night a father gets to tuck his not-so-little girl in to bed, for every birthday celebrated with the whole family gathered round the table, for every evening spent just sitting together in the living room, all under one roof. Give thanks.  

                For the 22 refugee children, born into fear, hunger and death, whose innocence is slowly being restored: for every teacher whose love and patience is opening their minds to new worlds, for every afternoon spent drawing silly faces in sidewalk chalk outside, for every nurse, doctor, surgeon, nutritionist and therapist who has tenderly healed their wounds from their past lives so that they can embrace all that lies ahead. Give thanks. 

Never forget: We bear witness to countless little miracles in the lives of the refugees we welcome and in our own lives every day. Count each one. And give thanks.