Foster family and other refugees keep expanding my life – World Refugee Day 2018

foster family

Richmond, Virginia – a teacher and gardener celebrates her foster family and other refugees for World Refugee Day 2018.

By accident, when I was 55, I took in a 14-year old Guatemalan refugee and her baby daughter as my foster family. I hadn’t planned to do it, but they opened my life and taught me to love again.

I say “by accident” because I was a single, professional woman working as a manager and was very happy being with my friends, my hobbies, and doing volunteer work. I took these two girls into my home and their social worker helped me to remember how to be a mom and how to enjoy having a little girl in my home after having raised a boy. They are still my family today. My foster family and I love each other and spend as much time together as we can even though my foster daughter is married and has another daughter and a husband.

My foster family taught me how to have an open mind and an open heart, and to love others.

Five years later, I knew I wanted to work with refugees again and encouraged members in my church to adopt a family (well, really three families), to teach English to refugees in their living rooms, and we have now started a community garden where the refugees can work the garden and take vegetables home to their families. The refugees we work with are Muslims and have taught me more about religion.

I believe that god is found in the trees and flowers, and she is the spirit that flies in the wind. My god is inside me, the holy being who gives me the strength to solve problems, and who helps me love other people. Imagine, then, my learning from Muslims whose god is transcendent, who provides rules for how to live, how to pray, how to eat, and when to eat.

A 14-year-old Muslim girl recently told me that the first day of Ramadan this year is the first day of the state-wide standardized tests all students take. In other words, her first day of fasting is a pressure-filled day of exams. They fast for thirty days and have the strength to not eat until after sunset. “God will give me the strength to do well on the exam,” she said. “With God, I will succeed.”

In honor of God and her religious beliefs, the teen wears her hijab, long sleeves, and long pants in the YMCA swimming pool. In a recent conversation, she told me that she would like to live with girlfriends when she gets older because they have fun together, but she knew her parents wouldn’t let her do this. I talked about how a balance is necessary to honor the customs of Islam and American customs and that something that might cause strife between her and her parents as she grows older. She said, “With the strength God gives me, we will balance customs.”

I have learned how strong the belief in God is for Muslims. While my God is “the wind in the trees,” their God guides every decision they make each day.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day:

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Kathy Wimett
Kathy Wimett lives in Richmond, Virginia. She works as an English teacher for Church World Service and community gardener.