The Gift of Home

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Jeremiah stood in front of the door, looking down at the keys in his hand.

“Go on in. This is your home now.”

My home. It was almost too much for Jeremiah to take in. It had been 23 years since he had had a home. Twenty-three years since his family had slept in an actual building with a door and a roof. Twenty-three years since he had held the keys to anything, since anything had been his.

He slowly unlocked the door and stepped inside, his wife and 8 children following behind. It was clean and warmly furnished. There were beds in every room, clothes in every closet. And all of it—every spoon, chair and sock—were theirs.

At long last, Jeremiah and his family were home.

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We take it for granted, but for a refugee family, having a home 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.

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To date, with the help of our incredible community, we have been able to provide 125 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 2019. 

Our average family’s rent for one month is $600. This week, we’re looking for 14 people or groups to give that amount— one for every household we resettled in 2018. But if you can’t give that much, give what you can! Every contribution makes a difference.

 

The Gift of Empowerment

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 When refugees find out they are going to be resettled in America, they start to dream—and they dream big. They know of America as the land of opportunity, where anything is possible anyone can have the chance to make something of themselves. So they dream big.

And to us, that’s what refugee resettlement is all about: Helping refugees build their American dreams.

When Denys found out he and his family were going to be resettled in America, he immediately knew what he wanted to do: he wanted to be a truck driver. He had always had a thing for big machines. In his home country of Ukraine, he worked as a mechanic, repairing trucks, tractors and other large machinery. But it was never enough to provide for his family, especially not once the corrupt local government took their share of his pay. But he had heard that in America, if he could learn to drive big trucks over long distances, he could provide his family with a warm, beautiful home and give his children a future. So that’s what he decided to do.

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Canopy’s case manager, Francisco, had barely finished showing Denys and his family around their new house last June before Denys started asking him about truck driving. How could he get a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)? And when could he start working? And how much did he think he could earn? After years and years of waiting, Denys was ready to get started. 

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He sat down with our director of employment, Khalid, and the two drew out a plan. First, Denys would need a regular driver’s license, and he would have to wait a few months for all his documents to come through in order to apply for one. In the mean time, Khalid would help him enroll in English class and study for the test. So that’s what they did. Denys and his wife biked to English class every day and studied the driver’s manual together regularly. By the time Denys had all his documents in place, he knew it front to back and he passed the test on his first try.

One month later, he enrolled in a 4-week CDL training program in Springdale. As soon as he had finished, he took the test and passed that one on his first try too. Within days, Khalid started getting pictures from Nebraska, Illinois and California as Denys drove his truck all across the US.

Denys’ American dream is coming true.

Together with our co-sponsors, employers and educators, Canopy has helped 19 other adults take steps toward their American Dreams in 2018. We’ve helped a young woman to become a Certified Nursing Assistant on her way to becoming a nurse. We’ve helped a single mother sign up for an online computer programming class so that she could eventually get a job in the technical support field. And we’ve helped our very first client enroll in college.

This coming year, help us to continue to bring our families’ American Dreams to fruition—and help us launch the dreams of those who have yet to come.

With $150, you can cover the cost of 3 weeks of job training for a refugee when they first arrive. We’re looking for 19 friends to contribute this amount this week— one contributor for every adult we’ve place in a job this year.

Give the gift of empowerment this season.

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The Gift of Childhood

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Maya (not her real name) had been here less than two weeks when she had to be rushed to the children’s hospital in Little Rock in the middle of the night. She was suffering from an intense attack of sickle cell anemia. Her misshapen red blood cells were stuck in her blood vessels and all across her body, her muscles were being deprived of oxygen. She was in intense pain and couldn’t breathe. At the hospital, the doctors gave her medication and made an appointment for her to see a specialist in two months.

Two weeks later, Maya was back at the emergency room. This time, she was admitted to the newly-opened Northwest Arkansas Children’s Hospital where she was able to see a pediatric hematologist the very next day. When he first laid eyes on her, he tearfully told Canopy staff that she likely would not have survived this attack in the refugee camp, but here in Northwest Arkansas, he could give her a new chance at life. He immediately took charge of her case: he ordered her an emergency blood transfusion and set her up on a holistic treatment plan. He turned things around for her. Now, Maya is thriving. She is responding well to treatment, doing well in school and can go back to just being a kid.

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This past year, Canopy was able to welcome and care for 34 other children just like Maya. 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.

We were also able to enroll 23 of these school-aged children in our After-School Buddies Program, thanks to an incredible partnership with Students for Refugees at the University of Arkansas. Through this program, the children meet once a week to work on their homework, practice their English, learn about American culture and meet one-on-one with a mentor. This semester, they’ve even been able to do a little bit of art therapy thanks to our friends at Art for the Heart.  

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 26 more children just like Maya-- 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. 

Help Abwe send some love (and books) to refugees in Tanzania!

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Abwe thought he was prepared to come to the US. He had trained as a nurse for the Red Cross and had experience working in microfinance and church ministry as well. He was smart, educated and adaptable. He felt ready for America and its challenges. But when he arrived, he discovered there was one key area where he was not prepared: language. For all his work experience and education, Abwe did not speak hardly any English. The cultural differences were also far bigger than he had expected. There was so much to learn and he felt so far behind.

That was when Abwe decided: as soon as he and his family were a bit more settled in the US, they would work to start a community center in the camp they had just left—Nyarugusu in Tanzania.

This community center would have a library with English books for all reading levels and a computer lab where refugees could access online English language programs to help them prepare for their journey to the US. His former church in the camp could spearhead the project and even recruit volunteer English tutors to help. All they needed was a little bit of funding to get started with construction and that’s where YOU come in.

Help Abwe and his former neighbors in Nyarugusu build their community center this holiday season in three ways:

              1) Bring English books for all ages and reading levels to the Canopy office anytime Monday-Thursday 9 am- 4pm so that Abwe can ship them to Nyarugusu. The books will go in the same container as the clothes, toys and feminine hygiene products that Majidi and Rehema are collecting.

              2) Consider donating to help cover the shipping cost and the cost of construction materials for the community center. The container will cost over $6,000 and the construction materials will cost $3,600. Abwe has already done a terrific job fundraising on his own and has gotten off to a great start, but this is going to take our entire community. Please consider giving what you can!

              3) Share this post! This is a big dream and it’s going to take our whole community to make it happen. Help us get everyone involved.

Help Majidi and Rehema send some love (and clothes) to refugees in Tanzania

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Majidi can clearly still remember when he first arrived in the refugee camp in Namibia after a grueling journey from the Congo. He had nothing with him but the clothes on his back and they were filthy and worn after the journey, but for his first several weeks in the camp, he had to make do with them.

Then a miracle happened: a container arrived in his camp from America, filled with clothes.

Majidi was invited to take what he needed. The new clothes made him feel like a human again. That simple act of kindness from strangers in America touched Majidi deeply. He knew then that if he ever got the chance to go to America, he wanted to repay the favor.

SO. This holiday season, he and his wife Rehema are working to fill a 40-foot container with clothes, feminine hygiene items and BOOKS to send to those in need in the camp and they need YOUR help.

Here are three things you can do this holiday season:

              1) Bring your gently used clothes and toys and (new) feminine hygiene products to the Canopy office anytime Monday-Thursday 9 am- 4pm so that Majidi and Rehema can send them to Nyarugusu.

              2) Consider donating to help cover the shipping costs. It’s going to cost $6,400 to ship that container from Fayetteville to Tanzania and Majidi and Rehema can’t do it alone! This fundraiser will help get them part of the way there at least.

              3) Share this post! This is a big dream and it’s going to take our whole community to make it happen. Help us get everyone involved.

Asylum: A few important facts

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Asylum seekers have been in the news quite a lot recently, as several migrant caravans make their way through central America towards Mexico and the US. We’ve heard a lot of disturbing things about these groups: that they’re trying to invade our country, that they’re dangerous and diseased, that they don’t care about our laws. We’ve heard a lot of people say— including Senator Cotton just last week— that asylum seekers should be welcome in America, but that they need to seek asylum “the right way.” If you feel that way then, well… you’d be right. We feel that way too. But here’s the thing: that’s exactly what these migrant caravans are doing. They’re on their way to apply for asylum in the US “the right way”— the only way, actually.

Here are a few facts everyone should know about asylum and these migrant caravans:

1) The only way to request asylum in a country is to physically get to that country and make your request. In person. On that country’s soil. That’s it. There is no application for asylum that someone can mail in from Honduras. Which makes sense, if you think about it. Asylum seekers are people who are in imminent danger. If someone had the time to fill out an application and wait for a few years for it to be processed before leaving their country, you might start to doubt whether they were really in that much danger to begin with. So that’s it. That’s all there is to it. If you are in danger in Honduras or El Salvador and you want the opportunity to find safety in the United States, the right way (and the only way) to do that is to make your way to the United States by whatever means possible and make your asylum request.

2) In order to qualify for asylum, you have to prove that your life is in danger because of your identity in some way. You have to prove that you are being persecuted because of your race, religion, political opinion, national origin or membership of a particular social group. Once you’re in the US, you will fill out an application with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service detailing exactly why you are afraid for your life. Then, typically, you’ll have to wait a year or two for an interview and a series of security checks before having your petition approved or denied. It’s very, very hard to prove that you are worthy of asylum. The bar is pretty high and only those with truly valid persecution claims will be selected. But of all the countries in the world, Honduras and El Salvador are pretty logical places for people to be fleeing, considering they have the two highest murder rates in the world.

3) Getting to the United States is dangerous in and of itself, so it makes sense that people would travel in groups. You have to cover hundreds of miles, mostly on foot, many of them through desert. You’re at constant risk of attack from smugglers and thieves. You could easily get lost and run out of food or water. That’s not the sort of journey anyone would want to undertake on their own, which is why people form caravans. They’re not trying to make an intimidating force— they’re just trying to stay safe as they make their way to our country “the right way.”

And here’s another important fact you might not have known. Current US law states that it doesn’t matter how you get to our country— you have the right to request asylum. Whether you cross at a formal port of entry historically has not had any bearing on your asylum petition. Which again, if you think about it, makes sense. An asylum claim is supposed to be about whether or not your life is really in danger— not about how well you understand US immigration and border laws. However, this past week, President Trump signed a proclamation attempting to change this law, stating that from now on, people who do not cross the border at official ports of entry can no longer request asylum.

Canopy NWA is deeply concerned by this move for a few main reasons. First, it starts to put qualifications on asylum petitions that have nothing to do with persecution. Asylum is supposed to be about what you fled you from— not how you got here. Crossing the border without inspection is a misdemeanor offense and people who do so are and should be prosecuted for it. But that should not be reason enough on its own to send them back to the danger they just fled, especially when you consider that many of those seeking asylum are unaccompanied children who don’t know any better.

Second, it puts asylum seekers in unnecessary danger by keeping them in the border region for months. Currently, there isn’t enough manpower at official border crossings to process the volume of people needing to seek asylum, and despite this new proclamation, it doesn’t appear the DOJ or DHS have plans to increase the number of officials at these ports of entry anytime soon. That means that those who do know to cross at an official border crossing and try to do so could face months and months of camping at the border as they await their turn in line. That opens people up to all kinds of unnecessary vulnerabilities.

We strongly encourage our elected leaders to push back against this new rule and make sure that those whose lives are in peril are given the chance to seek safe haven in our country.