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Mercy Responds to Refugees’ Needs

June 20, 2011

By Sisters Madonna and Lucille  

When refugees fleeing persecution or war arrive in New Hampshire and Vermont, they are receiving a warm welcome from Sisters of Mercy and Associates who teach them English, computer skills and the civics background they need to become citizens. Sisters share their experiences as the United Nations commemorates World Refugee Day today.

The Immigration Project

Five years ago, when the Institute called all Sisters of Mercy to respond to the needs of immigrants, a group of retired teachers in the Northeast Community began a program in Manchester, NH. Presently, there are 17 Sisters and co-workers involved in teaching English skills and citizenship preparation, and providing child care. Forty-two people have become U.S. citizens and many others have secured jobs with increased ability to speak English. The pre-school children are helped with language and skills development.

In addition to classroom activities, there are constant requests for help with communication with medical and social service providers. Donated clothing, food, and other items are available. Special needs of individual families are provided for, if possible.

A vibrant sense of community prevails where all newcomers are welcomed and special days are celebrated. There are many countries of origin represented: Sudan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Iraq, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia. While some are immigrants, having arrived in the United States to reunite with family or to seek better economic opportunities, many are United Nations-designated refugees: people who fled their countries because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Many lived in refugee camps for 12 to 15 years before arriving in the U.S.

Our newest project is a campaign to raise money to provide a well for a small village in Sudan where people are in need of water and food. This was initiated when a student returned home after 27 years and was devastated by the conditions there.

It is both a challenge and a blessing to be walking with these refugees and immigrants as they dream of a better life in the future.

Mercy Connections’ Education and Transition Center

Mercy Associate Phyllis L’Esperance directs the Tutoring Program in this Burlington, VT, center, where she joins with five tutors (Sisters Mary Boiselle and Lucille Bonvouloir and three lay women) in an individualized learning setting in which new arrivals work to improve their basic knowledge and understanding of English and others work on math and computer skills as appropriate. This, of course, leads to an understanding of the area and the culture of the country.

Learning in a communal setting is one of the strengths of this program. While the primary work at The Center addresses basic English skills, some students work toward their GED. At the close of each academic year, students and teachers gather to share in a potluck and recognize student efforts with Certificates of Achievement Awards.

Students and teachers learn from each other. It is this part of the experience that opens teachers and students to learning something about each other, their cultures and life stories.

Students come from Asia (Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam), Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, Congo and Benin), Romania, Haiti, Jamaica and Kosovo. And when they arrive at Mercy Connections’ Education and Transition Center, these students (most of whom are women who came to the U.S. from refugee camps) are looking to improve their limited knowledge of English and they are in need of knowing that they are not alone in their efforts.

You can support these and other refugees who are resettled in the U.S. and elsewhere and those still seeking a safe haven, by joining in a prayer for World Refugee Day.

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