Refugee Action Network
Going to a service orientation for Refugee Action Network was my first service learning experience. Unfortunately, they did not have more activities this semester, but I had the opportunity to hear from a refugee who has grown to love serving herself. She is a refugee from Haiti and she moved to Florida with her dad who was very neglectful and physically abusive to her and her siblings. Her dad was constantly switching jobs and they were starving most of the time. Later in life she had some LDS religious leaders visit her and she got baptized and moved to BYU Idaho. After inactivity in the church, she realized that she was miserable again because she wasn’t trying to make her life better. She went on a mission and grew to love that feeling of serving other people and has continued to serve refugees the two years she has been back from her mission and graduated from BYU Idaho. She will buy them all hygenic kits even though she will have under 20$ left in her budget for food for the week because she wants to serve others and help them learn that they can lead a happy lifestyle just like she does now. It may take time, but it is possible!
This was my first experience interacting with refugees, and it was so good for me! I’ve never really interacted with refugees before this Valentine’s dinner. The sign in the picture above says “We Love Refugees!” I felt like that theme helped me to be really helpful, kind, and accepting to all of the refugees that night that I was meeting for the first time. I mostly helped keep the pitchers refilled and helped with kids serve the audience food. We had three performances that night, and we kept busy. I was very impressed with the kid’s performances! When I learned that they made up half of the dances in one day, my level of admiration grew for them. Refugees from Somalia and Mexico had an opportunity to represent their culture through food, dance, and poetry. I thought it was such a great experience to have these kids feel like their culture was being celebrated and not tossed aside just because they immigrated to America. So often, refugees or anyone who moves to America is forced to learn our language, customs, and culture and are then expected to celebrate the original country’s customs with those who share their same culture, race, or ethnicity. Through this activity, these kids were able to learn at a young age that America loves to celebrate different cultures and do activities all together. They need to realize that “We love refugees!”
This service learning experience with “Because He First Loved Us” was truly a learning experience for me. Growing up and being involved in the performing arts, I never took an interest in sports. When I learned that they were hosting a basketball event, I was so uncertain of my basketball abilities that I almost did not come, but I decided that it would be a humbling experience for me if I went. I had already attended the Valentine’s dinner, so I was familiar with the kids from Somalia at this point, and I was excited to hang out with them again, even if it meant that I had to look ridiculous when I threw a basketball.
I quickly realized an hour into this event that it wasn’t about teaching them basketball, although AK taught them some great techniques about playing basketball, and we all had fun! It was about doing an activity with the kids and interacting with them. While we were playing illimanation and waiting in line to throw the ball, ten year old girls and I started to bond over the fact that we were not good at basketball. After we were talking, they asked if I was married. When I responded that I was not, they were really surprised and asked “And how old are you?” I said that I was twenty. I forgot that they marry young in their culture at home, and they are not used to playing the dating game like we are. I did show them a picture of my boyfriend to which they replied “He looks cute. Mmhmmmm.” This made me realize that we all have the same feelings, but we have different cultural norms, languages, and beliefs, and that is the thing that so often convinces people of different cultures to just not interact. Actually interacting with these girls helped me to feel connected and similar to them during this basketball activity.
The music day was my favorite service learning experience! I absolutely loved being the orange team leader and having kids of multiple ethnicities and cultures come in contact and mingle with each other within my group. I had the wonderful opportunity to see how these kids gradually accepted and got to know one another. These pictures above show our very first activity of the day compared to the last picture which showed our last activity together. I love that these pictures are worth 1000 words! Our first activity was learning how to drum. As you can see from this picture, the kids were very shy to interact with each other, but they would eagerly participate in the activities as long as what they were doing seemed fun. As we rotated through the stations (dancing, instruments, and naming Disney songs) we ended up in the karaoke room.
The karaoke room was our very last station. There were a few really good and bad things about this being our last station. This karaoke room turned into the “just do whatever you want” room because the station leaders said that kids were too scared to sing in front of each other. When we first got in there, the kids were hungry and tired of rotating, so they decided to draw on the white board, play the drums, and play with the colorful ball in the room that actually ended up shocking one of the kids. As you can tell, this station was a little chaotic. One 12 year old girl was just done with the day and went and sat on the couch with her arms folded. Once we turned on the songs “Juju on That Beat,” the whole group went crazy and they HAD to participate in the dance because they couldn’t help themselves. My classmate taught them the dance, and they eagerly participated. After the Juju song, Nancy taught them a few twists and turns that you did for a partner dance, and they were having a blast. The last picture shows a white girl and a Somalian girl dancing together, sharing laughs, and just having a great time with the dance. I have a ten second video in my phone, but I just wanted to screenshot the moment where they decided to dance together because it shows them reaching out to each other and grabbing hands. I was so touched by what this symbolized. We don’t know other people until we both mutually reach out, grab each others hands, and take the risk and blessing of getting to know someone different from us. I’m so grateful I got to see the change of acceptance grow in the kids just within 3 hours!