True friendship: a reflection – World Refugee Day 2018

Cetherine, Solange and their families share their true friendship

Aurora, Illinois – a law professional celebrates true friendship and common ground with a refugee mother

I came to know “Solange” as her legal specialist, trying to reunite her with her two-year-old daughter who was left in the country she fled to after leaving the D.R. Congo. At first it was a professional relationship with boundaries and distance. It became a true friendship when I realized she was my equal.

I couldn’t help but cross that professional line when I found out she needed someone to watch her 4-year-old son while she worked all day on a Saturday. I joined a few other volunteers in caring for this sweet boy with a ton of infectious energy.

During the week our legal team at World Relief worked on Solange’s daughter’s immigration case, but there were many weekends her son became a regular part of my family’s life.

I wanted to be of help to a single mom trying to rebuild her life in the US, a mother who was also painfully waiting to be reunited with her daughter. I knew she had been through a lot but I didn’t and still don’t know all the details. I didn’t need to know those details in order to help through offering a true friendship.

In the beginning of this journey with Solange, I was in rescue mode. I tried to be there when she needed me and I tried to help solve her minor and major problems. After two long and painful years, we successfully helped bring her daughter to the United States. But the challenges only continued. Being a single mother of two with one wage-earner is challenging to say the least.

I brought a lot of assumptions into my friendship with Solange, and one was a limited view of her strengths and qualities that helped her survive thus far. I saw mainly her needs, but she was and is more than the challenges she faces. About a year and a half ago, she moved out of the area with her two children, and then – it hit me.

I realized she is strong, resourceful and resilient, and not only that – she wants to be seen as such.

Isn’t that what I would want? She wants to be independent and do things her way, just like I do. She is a mom who fiercely loves her children and will do anything for them, like I do. She doesn’t need me and that is a good thing!

True friendship can emerge when there is a desire for a relationship that isn’t based on need. A major part of this realization came when I started seeing Solange as an equal. Another mom like me, trying to do her best.

We are still in the beginning stages of true reciprocal friendship, but there have been hopeful glimpses -like the beginnings of flower buds that form before they bloom.

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 Catherine Norquist
Catherine Norquist is the director of Immigration Legal Services at World Relief DuPage/Aurora in Illinois. She has worked at World Relief since 2004.