This semester, Project Welcome is sponsoring a refugee family from Kabul, Afghanistan. “We try to help at least two families a year,” Mrs. Katy Salzman, Project Welcome club moderator and social studies teacher said. “I’m really glad to have a family this year. The U.S. State Department decides every year how many refugees they are going to accept. This year it was approved 18,000.”
The main task that the Project Welcome students, from both Marian and Prep, undertake is setting up the apartment for the families arriving. They collect donations of items needed, such as grocery store gift cards, light bulbs and school supplies.
On Oct. 22, club members set up their apartment, filling it with all of the necessities. Senior Chrissy Gulseth helped this year and has in the past. “You have to think about the food they would want to eat and the things they would want in their house, not what you would want,” Gulseth said.
The family of eight consists of parents, a 19-year-old son, 18-year-old twins (son and daughter), a 15-year-old son, a 10-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Some of the children studied English in school, but the parents do not speak any.
“They’re part of a program where they helped our troops over there and we’ve given them assurances that if they are even in any danger, we will help them get out of the country. It’s very dangerous work, because of the Taliban threat,” Salzman said.
On Oct. 24, the family arrived in Omaha. Salzman and Marian girls met them at the airport holding welcoming signs. Also present was an interpreter and the family’s case manager. “The resettlement agency here in Omaha designated by the U.S. Government to accept refugees is Lutheran Family Services. They will provide a case worker that will be working with them for the next three months,” Salzman said.
“When they are accepted, they are given full rights to be here, working rights and basically everything except for citizenship. After five years, they get to become a citizen,” Salzman said.
She explained that it is especially important for organizations to sponsor refugee families. “They are only on public assistance for three months.” This includes their rent being paid for their first three months here.
All refugees have to pay for their own plane ticket to America. They are given a payment plan, which helps them to develop credit, but it also puts them in debt when they arrive. Project Welcome relieves a great financial burden by being able to provide all the items needed to set up their apartment.
“Not speaking the language and being from a completely different culture, integration and assimilation will be very hard,” Salzman said. Most refugees come from dangerous, traumatizing situations and struggle adjusting to a foreign country.
“I think it’s really important to help them once they get here so they can maintain that American Dream concept,” Gulseth said.
It’s a slow process, but “it’s so nice to see them when they are in a happy situation and self-sufficient,” Salzman said.
On Sept. 29, the Catholic Church celebrated “World Day of Migrants and Refugees.” Project Welcome recognizes a connection to the work they do and Catholic social teaching.
“Two of Marian’s core values, inspired by the Servants of Mary, are service and community. I think it’s really important to build up people in your community, and I think refugees are some of the people who need it most,” Gulseth said.
By J1 Reporter Megan Hoppe
Project Welcome hosted a move in for a family of eight refugees from Afghanistan on Oct. 22. The club partnered with Creighton Prep to furnish their apartment and help with the move. Project Welcome helped the refugee family by collecting everyday household items, such as glassware and bed sheets, and help organize everything in the refugees’ new home in Omaha. They want to make it as welcoming as possible for the refugees.
Refugees come from all over the world including, Myanmar, Afghanistan, the Congo and Syria. The United States government decides which refugees can come to the United States. Project Welcome sponsors any family they can, usually one family a semester. This fall, they are sponsoring a group from Afghanistan and plan to host another family in the spring.
Club moderator Mrs. Katy Salzman explains that it is important for refugees to get sponsored because if they are part of the resettlement program, then the refugees have only three months to become self sufficient. This task can be difficult for some families. The refugees come to America with little or no belongings. They are given very little money from the United States government.
Having to pay for all their belongings leaves them a limited amount of money for anything else. Sponsoring refugees allows them to save money and gives the refugees a better chance to succeed. Any church, school, or individual can sponsor refugees, but not all refugees get sponsored.
Sophomore Lauren Montague, who is on the leadership, team said, “[The move in] was one of the most rewarding projects I have been on.” Montague said some girls went to an Asian market so that the refugees could have food like they would have at home, which will help them feel welcomed. She likes the club because she gets to meet girls from other grades. She loved seeing how they could finish a project quickly. “It is an experience I will never forget.” Montage encourages other Marian students to join the club. “Project Welcome gives Marian students a chance to get involved in an opportunity that makes immediately an impact on our society by helping refugees in our community!” she said.
“I just want to say to anyone who thinks they can not make a difference on any sort of issue, you are wrong. There are so many ways to get involved. It is just finding the right one for you,” Montague said.
Project Welcome will be hosting a bake sale in December, date to be announced, and they invite everyone to buy from the sale. The money will go to buying supplies for making fleece blankets which will be given to refugees. Any student or teacher, not just club members, are welcome to stop by and help make blankets or come and listen to any of the speaker events (which are announced at school). Students interested in joining the club should see Mrs. Salzman in Room 320.