Refugee Journeys – Volunteers Include Former Clients

By Bryana DiFonzo, Volunteer Manager, Journey’s End Refugee Services

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At Journey’s End we greet people taking their first steps into a new life. We help make that beginning strong enough for them to write their own success, but often we don’t get to see the next chapters of their story. I only find out about the next chapters of people’s lives when they come back to Journey’s End not as clients, but as volunteers.

Most refugees volunteer informally to help their community members, but some also end up officially volunteering or working with the agency that helped them resettle. You can imagine how incredible it is for our clients to interact with someone who understands both their language and their struggles.

One of our dedicated volunteers at Journey’s End is Hanar Hawramy. She arrived in the US with her family in April 1997. In a few months she will have been here 16 years. Originally from Kurdistan in Iraq, she speaks several languages and has been successful achieving her own vision of the American dream.

I met her where I meet most of our volunteers: she came to New Volunteer Orientation looking to use her skills and experience to give back to her community. The difference was that she had known about Journey’s End long before anyone else in the room did, since Journey’s End had been her resettlement agency all those years ago.

Since that day, Hanar has become a familiar presence at Journey’s End. She’s been volunteering in ESL classes every week, plus she always comes to our events. In 2012 she participated in classes with CEPA Gallery and was one of the featured artists for our Buffalo Through Their Eyes photo show. She is very thoughtful, goes the extra mile, and always brings a smile to people’s faces.

Left: Mr. A., an ESL student. Right: Hanar H. Photo by Brian Brown-Cashdollar.

Left: Mr. A., an ESL student. Right: Hanar H. Photo by Brian Brown-Cashdollar.

Hanar enjoys helping our clients master the English language since it’s often the most crucial step to them achieving independence. She remembers what it was like to be frustrated when communication was difficult, and she’s glad that the Journey’s End curriculum focuses on practicing words that clients will need to use right away. She said that the thing clients are most often surprised about is that she can speak Arabic, and the thing fellow Americans are most often surprised about is that she’s very used to snow from growing up in Kurdistan.

Hanar is not only a wonderful person and a good teacher; she is also the embodiment of hope for all of our new neighbors who ever find themselves discouraged, wondering if they’ll ever “make it” here after all. Hanar and the many other American volunteers who were formerly refugees are living proof that it’s possible. Their volunteering not only helps immensely, it also allows our new arrivals a peek into their bright future.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing with you some of the amazing people I know who volunteer at Journey’s End, and some of the amazing things they are able to accomplish. It’s a rewarding experience for me to be able to connect old and new Buffalonians in such a meaningful way. I hope that you will encourage your friends and family to volunteer, with us or with someone else, this year. It makes a huge difference in the lives of your neighbors.

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