Making a difference, one refugee family at a time

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Barb Arland-Fye
Tara Greufe listens as African refugee Steven Kim speaks during an event at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Tara Greufe volunteered for a six-month commitment with four other members of her parish to help a refugee family from Africa acclimate to life in the United States. “What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with the family,” she told fellow parishioners during a presentation last month at St. Paul the Apostle Parish.

Three years later, her six-month commitment has grown into a lasting friendship, especially with the three youngest children. “I love those boys as if they were my own,” said Tara, a teacher, wife and parent of three grown children.

Brooke

The youngest of the refugee family, 12-year-old Steven Kim, also spoke briefly during the presentation organized by parishioner Tom Brooke on behalf of World Relief Quad Cities. Brooke, a deacon aspirant for the Diocese of Davenport, said the suffering caused by war and conflict in the world today compelled him to do something in his corner of the world. Promoting the work of World Relief Quad Cities is one way to respond, he believes.

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UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, reports that 36.4 million refugees are among the world’s 110 million forcibly displaced people worldwide “as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order” (unhcr.org/refugee-statistics). 

World Relief partners with local church communities and individual volunteers to assist newly arrived families in the U.S., like the one Tara and other St. Paul parishioners assisted. “I have an understanding now how hard it is to move to a new country,” she told the gathering after they enjoyed Afghan dishes prepared with love by women refugees from Afghanistan. Refugees need help with the basics … how to turn on a stove, how to catch a bus, Tara said. “We are there to teach them what life is like in the U.S.”

George Carizey
A luncheon of homemade Afghan dishes prepared by Afghanistan women refugees is served in Denning Hall at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

A Sunday tradition

The concept “it takes a village” to provide a safe, healthy environment in which families can develop and thrive, is essential to the work of World Relief. The private, not-for-profit organization “believes that the village is the Church and body of Christ that will deliver the families these opportunities,” said George Carizey, director of development and outreach for World Relief Quad Cities. He spoke at the event at St. Paul. Refugees come from Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, Syria, So­malia, El Salvador and Burma/Myanmar, he said.

The parish’s relationship with the African refugee family began in 2021, when each member of the parish volunteer group chose family members on which to focus their accompaniment. “I said I would work with the boys. I’m a teacher,” Tara explained. “The first thing I started to do was tutor, especially the younger two.”

A Sunday tradition evolved, after Tara and her husband Paul invited the brothers — Richard (now 19), Ezekiel (now 16) and Steven — over for dinner. The brothers loved going for a swim in the family’s pool and also enjoyed playing games, watching movies and going to the park with Tara and Paul. “We always have dinner, almost every Sunday. That’s the thing we like most, to sit down and have dinner,” Tara said. The brothers love American food, especially french fries.

Paul has formed a bond with Ezekiel. “They do projects in the garage, woodworking or changing oil in the car,” Tara said. Steven has become friends with Paul and Tara’s 10-year-old grandson, Chase.

The siblings are building a relationship with Tara and Paul with the blessings of their mother, Niyiragira, a hard-working woman whom Tara describes as a great mom. “I asked her, ‘What did you do to make your kids so wonderful?” Tara said the mother responded that prayer is a priority in their family. 

Tara expresses admiration for the family’s faith, perseverance and resilience. “Steven will say, ‘I have to stay focused. I have to achieve my goals. I have to follow Christ.’ Those are things most 12-year-olds don’t say.” She said the siblings don’t say much about their life in Kenya, in a refugee camp. One time, she remarked about their big appetites and one of the brothers said they didn’t have much to eat in Africa. The siblings’ parents fled from Burundi and Rwanda in east central Africa before arriving in Kenya, Tara said.

‘The hardest thing …’

In their new home in the Quad Cities, “The hardest thing,” Steven said, during a phone interview with The Catholic Messenger, was adapting (to a new country) and growing in the ability to participate in activities. “Some  things were kind of hard, like making lots of friends.” He didn’t speak English when he arrived in the United States, although one of his older brothers did speak some English. “It took us 1-1/2 years to learn English,” Steven said. He describes Tara and Paul as “very good people who helped us and made us feel comfortable in adapting to our new country.”

During the brothers’ early visits to Tara and Paul’s house, “We told them about our life in Kenya and they told us about what we were going to experience,” Steven said. Tara and Paul shared advice with the brothers about being aware of their surroundings, explained the importance of managing finances and shared opportunities for them to broaden their horizons, such as attending camp.

Steven has absorbed the lessons well and soaks up learning opportunities. “School is like my favorite place to learn what I want to do when I grow up,” he said, which might include a return visit to his homeland “to help Africa.”

Tara’s dream is to inspire others to experience accompanying a refugee family to feel a sense of welcoming and belonging in their new country and “to see what a gift this is.”

“As refugees come to our communities, I am grateful that individuals and parishes provide support to refugees during their first 90 days of resettlement,” said Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and Catholic Charities. “As much if not more important is the time thereafter when we continue with support as those new here move from being new neighbors to longtime friends.”

Learn more about World Relief
World Relief Quad Cities is a not-for-profit agency providing services to refugees and immigrants in Western Illinois and Eastern Iowa. The organization has served more than 3,000 refugees and other immigrants in the Quad-Cities area since 1999 and hopes to encourage more parishes in the Diocese of Davenport to engage in volunteer opportunities.

In fiscal year 2023, World Relief served more than 360 clients (children and adults). In fiscal year 2024, “our goal is to serve approximately 500+ clients. Currently, we are serving over 3,000 clients,” said George Carizey, director of development and outreach for World Relief Quad Cities. “The escalation in our service goal can be attributed to our expansion into Scott County, Iowa.” As a result, he said, “Many more lives will be re-rooted and resettled in our great communities.” In addition, World Relief provides resources and advisory assistance within a 100-mile radius of the Quad Cities.

Learn more about World Relief at worldreliefquadcities.org. Contact Volunteer Coordinator Samantha Sancen at ssancen@wr.org or call her at 309-644-1729 about volunteer opportunities.


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