Stories of New Beginnings

A Safe Place to Land

“A Safe Place to Land” (Let your tears flow…)
Have you ever experienced a spring snowstorm? Most likely the answer is yes! Well, it is Minnesota. And we always get a brief glimpse of 70 degree temperatures, only to have it followed by an unexpected and unwelcome blizzard. If you are a visitor to our state in spring, you will inevitably hear someone say, “I feel like crying.”

I am a music lover. I start the day dancing in my kitchen and singing in the shower. You never see me leaving for the day without earbuds around my neck ready to savor a song. Uplifting music makes me walk taller, smile brighter, and breathe deeper—even during a late April snowstorm.

But, today the tears are flowing…and it is not because of an unexpected weather forecast. I am listening to a song entitled, “A Safe Place to Land” by Sara Bareilles with John Legend. While the song is pensive and reflective, it has particularly cut to my core. As I listen, I visualize the faces of refugee and immigrant children staring back at me.

I see their tears streaming down weathered cheeks, I feel their paralyzing fear, and I experience their desperation as they hope for a safe place to land.

Today’s choice of music has made the tears flow. And that is ok. Sometimes, I need to be reminded of those families and children I’ve cared for as a past director for the refugee program; prior to accepting my storytelling—relationship building—fundraising efforts as Director of Advancement for Catholic Charities.

As the lyrics echo in my earbuds, I am feeling a connection with those who I’ve come to cherish who have experienced indescribable challenges and suffering. I see the faces of those refugees who have arrived under our auspices. I see families who have fled countries because they fear for their children’s lives. I see the woman I cared for who arrived with no eyes, men arriving disfigured due to bomb explosions, children who disembark planes without limbs and with blown eardrums. I see those arriving with malnutrition and rotten teeth.

I hear the voices of those refugees telling me they were so desperate to reach a host country and safe place to land that they climbed into overloaded boats. I hear them tell me vividly how family and friends were lost in wild waters due to capsizing.

But, as I close my eyes and listen to the words of this song, perhaps the saddest memory is that of children arriving with tears in their eyes. I was met with young eyes that did not sparkle; eyes that were filled with fear and lacked hope.

Sara Bareilles calls us to imagine for a moment what it feels like to be in a situation comparable to being in a building going up in flames? You are told to just stand still…the window is open, and your leap of faith is that maybe, just maybe, someone will catch you and give you a safe place to land.

She challenges you and me to be the hand of a hopeful stranger and while we may be a little scared… to be brave enough to be a light in the dark of this danger. Could that danger be the mentality of indifference—an “out of sight/out of mind feeling” that allows us to make excuses when it comes to the needs of refugees and immigrants?

I ask you to simply take 4:42 minutes to listen to the song, “A Safe Place to Land” on You Tube today. Allow your tears to flow. As you listen, see the faces of refugees and immigrants needing a safe place to land.

While those tears stream down our cheeks may it remind you and me that made in God’s image and likeness, every human life has dignity and deserves a safe place to land—no exceptions!

Submitted by:
Mary Alessio—Director of Advancement/Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota

(If you’d like to help provide a safe place to land, please designate your gift to Refugee Resettlement)

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Aline, like many refugees before her, came to the United States because of war. Aline was a young mother of 5 children. When war broke out in the Democratic Republic of Congo her husband was one of the first to be killed.  She stayed hoping that things would calm, and she was very hesitant to leave her home land. Unfortunately, that hope ended late one night when Aline and her children were forced to flee from terrorists who started their house on fire.

“We fled into the bush in the middle of the night and walked and walked until we reached Uganda.” Aline quickly realized there were many refugees already in Uganda and no future for them there, with limited resources and the constant fear that someone would recognize them and report their whereabouts to those seeking to harm them.

“I knew we would not be safe until we left Africa,” Aline said.

Unfortunately, the refugee process moves very slowly.  Aline and her children lived in constant fear for 10 years until they were finally granted refugee legal status and were able to travel to the United States a year and a half ago.

Now Aline and her family call the United States “home.” During the first 3 months in the United States the Catholic Charities staff assisted her in securing safe and stable housing, clothing, food, and enrolled her youngest into school. Aline and her daughters enrolled in ESL classes and participated in employment services, finding employment very quickly.  A year and a half later, Aline and her children work as well as attend school, with her two oldest now working their way through college.


 

Mahmoud, has seen his county of Syria once a peaceful and beautiful country turn into a war zone, with unimaginable numbers of civilians killed. He knew that once the bombings came there was no life left for his wife and young child there. They fled, escaping to Turkey but they were not wanted there, seen only as a burden along with the other millions of refugees without a home. He applied for refugee status and waited for many years for word.

With a notice of deportation from Turkey in hand

(as refugees do not have any legal standing in the countries they flee to), the news that he and his small family would travel to the United States to reunite with his parents and brothers came just in time. The hardships don’t end when you arrive into the US, but Mahmoud’s positive attitude and willingness to push himself to go out and learn all that he could has led him to a new beginning. With the assistance of the Match Grant Employment Program and his own motivation, he now works and is helping his wife look for employment. He is proficient at the bus and is quick to help others learn as well.


 

Opap and his wife, Ethiopian refugees, lived in a Kenyan refugee camp almost their entire lives, and started to raise their two young children there as well,

never giving up hope that one day they would be with family

in the United States and have a real home. After years of waiting they reunited with family this year, and to their great joy and surprise close friends from their many years in Kenya as well.  Opap and his family are a perfect example of how good case management and supportive volunteers can make all the difference. Only months after arrival Opap and his wife are now working full time jobs, their children are in school, and they see only the possibilities that exist with life in their new home. They also take out of their busy lives to help newly arrived refugees learn their way and see their future in this new place they call home.