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.”
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.