The International Institute

I want you to take a moment, no matter where you come from to think about what it would be like to have nowhere to go.  Not just shelter, but land and country.  No one will accept you. Mother Teresa said,  “I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, and uncared for; to be shunned by everybody and to be just no one to anyone. Nothing is more painful than not being wanted”.   So this blog post goes to the refugees and orphans of the world.

When I came off the road after full time travel, I went into a bit of culture shock. I needed something that connected me with the rest of the world. I reached out and started volunteering at the International Institute. It was exactly what I needed.  After all, I was always taken care of by locals when I was on the road. People looked out for me and sent me in the right direction. I thought it was time for me to do my part for humanity and help people that didn’t know their way around this country or the St. Louis City.

My first time volunteering for the Institute, it was to serve refugees their first Thanksgiving meal. It is my favorite story to tell. I was in charge of giving out the lemonade. Well, if you did not grow up on lemonade, the color of it is quite shocking. I know if someone handed me a drink in that neon yellow abroad, I would think it was not for human consumption. That was exactly the reaction I had handing out the lemonade, people would look at me as if it was better off going into the engine of their car.  No one drank it, and I got a good laugh at their reactions. I must have looked the same when I was offered snake wine in China.

That was it, I was in love. It was exactly what I needed. I then started volunteering for their Citizenship Program. I would teach refugees the rules and laws of the USA, and tell them about their rights and responsibilities. It was and is a very interesting program to take on, as if you never had any rights, you don’t understand the concept of citizen rights or responsibilities. Not to mention, they are denouncing their birth country and need to fully understand what that means.

Soon thereafter, I was asked to join the Young Board. It brought me even closer to the refugees that have been relocated to St. Louis.  I want to tell you a story about a father and daughter, Munawar and Muna.

Six-year-old Muna was away from home when the raid occurred in her village in Darfur, Sudan. Her parents were forced to leave without her and flee to Kenya with her three siblings. Her father, Munawar, would agonize over the decision for years to come.

For five years, the family lived in uncertainty in refugee camps, struggling to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. Finally, in 2009, they learned they were being resettled by the International Institute in St. Louis. The Institute staff provided the family with cultural orientation, and Munawar and his wife attended English classes. He also worked with employment staff to get a janitorial job.

Munawar has had several dreams. His first was to own a business. Again, Institute staff helped – this time working with Munawar to get credit counseling and prepare a business plan. Then, he received a micro-loan from us to start Kab’s Taxi Cab Company.

Today, Munawar’s business is thriving. He and his family live in a house, and his children attend excellent schools. When asked about how life is different in America, he said, “Now is much better. I drive a taxi at the airport which gives me more income to support my family.”

But Munawar had one more dream. He longed to find Muna and bring her home. With the help of Institute staff, he finally located her in Kenya. In June 2013, Muna, now 14, arrived at Lambert International Airport and ran into her father’s arms.

Munawar’s family is together again and creating a successful future here in St. Louis.

This is one story about a family that suffered genocide in Sudan. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Sudanese Government have been at war in southern Sudan since 1983. The conflict has already claimed more than 500,000 lives and displaced huge numbers of people. Among these were at least 20,000 children, mostly boys between the ages of 7-17. If you are interested in learning more, there is a great book called ‘What Is the What’ by Dave Eggars.

So what can I say, the International Institute and their staff are incredible, and they do a great job at helping people feel at home in St. Louis.

If you have the means to help the Institute, please do. Your donation directly effects someone’s life. To give you an idea of where it goes: $25 buys works shoes, $50 provide a month’s bus pass, $100 fills a family’s refrigerator, and $500 pays a month’s rent. Of course, your donation is tax deductible in accordance with IRS regulations. You can do so here, IISTL Donation Form or come to the upcoming toy drive.

The International Institute will have a toy drive for all of the kids that were relocated this year. The toy drive is Tuesday, December 10th from 6-8pm. It will be hosted by Frazer’s Good Eats in Benton Park. Come on down, it’s a great time.

Cheers- to being a good person!