“Please, come inside and have some tea, water, juice, or something to eat!”
I hear some variation of this generous offer several times a week from ReEstablish Richmond clients. On the days I have time to accept their offers, I become familiar with Afghan green tea and the ubiquitous sectioned glass platter, filled with different types of nuts and a new favorite: kishmish, thin green raisins. Other days it is the homemade Sudanese equivalent of donuts, fluffy and powdered with sugar. Some days the fare is simply cold apple juice or soda, offered sincerely in the midst of Richmond’s overbearing summer heat. On the days that I regretfully decline to stay longer, pulled away by other, rigidly scheduled obligations, I am reminded of the fluidity of the cultural values surrounding work, hospitality, and socializing. This reminder and the instinctive, unceasing nature of this generosity make me hope that my own home will be as filled with warmth and welcome as those of our clients.
The irony of refugees, who are hoping to be welcomed by us as they resettle, bestowing me with the gift of hospitality is not completely lost on me. However, I have found this pattern to hold true throughout my time with ReEstablish Richmond; this work is truly an exchange. For every valuable service we provide - learner’s permit courses, bus orientations, employment support, mentoring, tutoring, community building, and more - we receive something in return: the chance to get to know new members of our Richmond community and the chance to learn more about life outside our own U.S. borders.
As an anthropology and Arabic student at the University of Richmond, I came into this summer internship looking not only for chances to use my language skills, but also chances to strengthen my cross-cultural learning and communication abilities. I found both, and much more, as I spent time in client homes, drove clients to and from appointments, and advocated for clients at the DMV. I have learned a great deal about what resettlement looks like in Richmond and the challenges that refugees face in reestablishing themselves here, particularly after their government support ends. It is not an easy thing to translate the U.S. resettlement system and general bureaucratic expectations into a process that is linguistically and culturally comprehensible to refugees, and yet this support is precisely what ReEstablish Richmond provides for its diverse client population.
As I approach the final week of my internship, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this support system. Working with ReEstablish Richmond has been invaluable in not only equipping me with practical skills, but also in pushing me to engage on a deeper, more interpersonal level with the rich narratives of Richmond’s refugees. ReEstablish Richmond’s hands-on approach has allowed me to more fully understand what the motto “helping refugees establish roots, build community, and become self-sufficient” truly looks like in practice. I am endlessly inspired by the patience and encouragement of everyone involved with ReEstablish Richmond, from our staff to our volunteers to our clients. My immersive experience has strengthened my understanding of and relationships with both ReEstablish Richmond and the wider refugee community here in Richmond, and I am excited to maintain those connections long after my internship has ended.