Knowing a refugee has changed my life forever

Understanding and helping the refugee children population
Refugee girl in the playground

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017: Knowing a refugee has changed my life forever

Understanding and helping the refugee children population

Growing up in an upper-middle class suburb of Jacksonville, I lived in constant ignorance of the refugee community in our city. Then, in the fall of 2013, I enrolled in a course entitled “Colloquium” This course, taught by Dr. Leslie Kaplan, focused on understanding and helping the refugee children population.

This course forever changed my life. As a result of the brief encounters I had with refugee children, I decided to become a facilitator for the Colloquium course, which gave me further opportunities to interact with the refugee community. I also began volunteering with Lutheran Social Services, from which my fondest memory is of tutoring refugee middle-school students. It was inspiring to see their determination and hope firsthand.

Changing my major to social work to serve and be an advocate for the many refugees in this country

Because of  volunteering, I changed my major to social work so that I could serve and be an advocate for the many refugees in this country. During my final year at UNF, I interned at Project for Healing, a small nonprofit that provides mental health counseling and wellness programs to refugees in the Jacksonville area. It is here at Project for Healing that I encountered a client who will forever be a reminder of my time working with refugees.

Together, we worked towards helping this client understand how to take the city bus to the client’s medical appointments. With a language and cultural barrier between us, I learned a great deal of patience and respect. I worked to build trust and rapport with the client and while doing that, I helped the client to gain independence and confidence. The client helped me to learn the same lessons I was trying to teach the client, and I will forever be grateful for the unspoken respect and trust between this client and myself. This experience reminds me that smiles are universal.

In honor of World Refugee Day 2017, the Refugee Center Online is collecting stories of how refugees make our lives better.

The Refugee Center Online believes newcomers make our country a better place. Refugee resettlement is not just the moral or ethical thing to do – it benefits us and our communities as well. These stories from individuals around the country show how knowing, teaching, working with, and perhaps most importantly, being friends with, refugees have improved the lives of Americans.

Refugees shaking hands

World Refugee Day June 20, 2017

Find events in your community and learn how you can celebrate World Refugee Day 2017.

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About Katherine Parker

As a graduate of the University of North Florida with my Bachelor’s in Social Work, Katherine Parker now in the process of applying to the Florida State University for her Master’s in Social Work.