Refugees in Memphis

On Day 4 of my Volunteer Odyssey, I had the opportunity give back in a way to return some of the help I’ve received over the years. Have you ever been in a situation where someone helps you so much that you profoundly pray for a moment where you can return the favor or at least pay it forward? Well, throughout my life I’ve been blessed to be in the presence of great and wondrous people with giving hearts and willing spirits, especially during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer.

My opportunity came as a volunteer with World Relief Memphis. Background (their words) – World Relief is a refugee resettlement agency. They are funded largely by grants to help refugees start life in Memphis who have fled persecution from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan. World Relief is responsible for providing housing, social services, cultural orientation, and pathways to employment. I was asked to assist a Cuban couple, who had been living in Memphis for a little over a year, with their Department of Human Services (DHS) appointment. I was to pick them up from their house, drive them to the DHS office, and take them home.

When I arrived at their apartment, their 14-year-old son greeted me. He was very pleasant. I was soon introduced to the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Telz (name changed to protect their privacy). No one spoke English, so I delved right into my Spanish skills, which definitely needed sharpening. The couple wasn’t ready, so I waited in the living room with their son. We chatted a bit. He told me how he loves Memphis, i.e. USA, because things are so much cheaper than in Cuba. As our conversation ended, he thanked me for helping his parents and told me “goodbye” in English.

The drive to the DHS office was quiet and hot. This would be the first day I would use my AC in quite some time. Of course it didn’t work properly. I was a bit embarrassed, but the Telzs reassured me it was fine and it reminded them of the heat in Cuba. We all laughed, and they began to tell me more about Cuba as I told them about Memphis. The DHS office was full of people, and I thought it would be hours before our name was called. World Relief said DHS had a language line but when it came time for them to see their DHS representative, neither they nor the representative wanted me to leave. The Telzs said they felt better with me around, and the DHS representative said things would be much easier with an interpreter. It was at this moment when I was reminded of the family I lived with in Guatemala during my time as a Peace Corps volunteer. They were my rock, shield, and confidants in a strange land. It was at this moment when I knew and could relate to how they were feeling – unsure, nervous, excited, and so much more. I happily accepted the task. This was my opportunity to show the gratitude and thankfulness of my Guatemala family’s 2 years of hospitality, love, friendship, and helpfulness happily given to me with open arms and kind hearts. I was not going to miss this opportunity.

My brain was on super power! I’ve never been an interpreter and was unfamiliar with DHS services. I had to learn the programs offered by DHS, apply them to the Telz family’s situation, and then translate to Spanish. It was very tiring yet extremely exciting because I knew both parties were really grateful. After all was said and done, (i.e., Telz family understood their options and received benefits) everyone left happy, smiling, and with much more clarity of opportunities of support for the Telz family.

Our trip home was much more relaxed. The Telz family shared a bit more about their experiences in the USA and I shared my experiences in Guatemala. The family expressed their deep appreciation for all my help and offered coffee so we could chat a bit more at their home. I was unable to stay, though reassured them I could be reached if ever they needed anything. This volunteer assignment ended on an extremely happy note with the beginnings of a new friendship.

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