By Lindsey Boulais
“What's this?” Fatima asked as she shoved some papers into my hand. I flipped through the stapled packet. “I think there was some confusion with your health insurance application,” I responded. I sat with Fatima and her husband, both refugees from the Middle East, and called the 1-800 number. Even though I'm a native English speaker, I struggled to understand the fast-talking operator as I asked why they had received the letter and what was needed from them. After a few more calls to the 1-800 number (and one to my mom), we filled out the necessary paperwork and mailed it back.
Through being neighbors with refugees and immigrants, I have seen their need and how they could meet it themselves, but they just don't have the tools to navigate our system.
I will hear things like “There are so many papers in America!” and “In Afghanistan, I knew how to do this. In America, it's so confusing.” A few of us from the neighborhood and the organizations, International Teams, Jesuit Volunteer Corp. and the Arabic Christian Church sought to address this issue. Not only for the refugees and immigrants we knew, but for all newcomers in our city. Enter, the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Organization (RIHO) and The Welcome Center, an inclusive and supportive place where refugees and immigrants can connect with one another and the general public can become an integral part of welcoming others to Portland.
At The Welcome Center, located within the Rosewood Initiative at 162nd and Stark, refugees and immigrants can build long-term relationships, craft a resume, access community resources and services, and attend English or citizenship classes. For The Welcome Center to be truly successful, we need your help! There has never been a more crucial time to show hospitality to refugees and immigrants. To volunteer, please contact Lindsey at firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate, please visit our GoFundMe page under the Refugee and Immigrant Hospitality Organization. Together, we can show refugees and immigrants that they are valued and help them truly thrive. And, just maybe, they will change your life in the process.