ReEstablish Richmond and Kate Ayers
What an honor it was to meet Kate! If High Five RVA can make even one person say "Who knew?" about all of the good work happening in our city, then it's worth every effort! I'm so glad to know about the work ReEstablish Richmond is doing.
H5RVA: I visited your website today to learn more about the work you are doing in Richmond, and could not help but wonder what the current political turmoil and uncertainty means for ReEstablish Richmond. What are you seeing on the front lines of helping refugees thrive in Richmond?
Kate: I am seeing an unprecedented outpouring of support from private citizens and businesses and organizations in the Richmond area. We are encouraged by this, because no matter what changes on the political front, locally and federally, the programs ReEstablish Richmond provides are still going to be needed. Our work will not stop to help refugees resettled here establish roots, build community, and become self-sufficient.
H5RVA: What do you wish more people in our city knew about refugees who live among us?
Kate: I wish more people were motivated to meet their new neighbors and see the richness of diversity they add to our culture. They bring strong family values, a wealth of global experience, creative energy, and deep-seated determination, and a depth of perspective to the communities where they are resettled.
H5RVA: What are some stumbling blocks/barriers that most of us wouldn’t even think about when someone is away from all that they have ever known and starting anew?
Kate: Everyone arriving here as a refugee is starting from zero. It is difficult to express the enormity of that phrase. Many have arrived from camps where they have been sometimes for years, bringing with them only what they could carry when fleeing, and maybe one suitcase of belongings they accumulated since. Most commonly, the educational degrees and professional certifications they hold from their home country do not translate here in the Unites States, so physicians are working in factories or 7-11, professors and teachers are working in grocery stores or cleaning hotel rooms.
The massive cultural shift is overwhelming for new refugee arrivals. Many came from a politically restrictive place, where they had very few personal freedoms. Learning to navigate a completely new culture when you're still learning the language is a challenge, especially when social networks were left behind. Loneliness and feelings of isolation are a common result of the new expansiveness in one's life – both metaphorical and physical. Those who came from living in camp with thousands, or an urban one-bedroom apartment shared with, say, five families, findthe new freedoms both exhilarating and terrifying.
H5RVA: Are you having more good days than really tough days? How do you keep hopeful about the work you and your team are doing?
Kate: I am definitely having more good days than tough days. I see the direct impact ReEstablish Richmond has on refugee families working towards self-sufficiency. And the outpouring of community support in the form of encouraging messages or our rapidly expanding volunteer program makes me hopeful. We are about to train 50 new volunteers and an additional 60 have signed up for our next orientation, which will take place in April. We think of every one of our volunteers as ambassadors who can share their experiences within their circles. The fear of the unknown is what leads to discrimination, and the more people sharing refugee stories makes the unknown known and erases that fear.
A positive thing coming out of the current political climate is the number of people reaching out to us and other organizations looking to be educated, and then wanting to act on what they learn by welcoming new refugee neighbors and supporting organizations like ReEstablish Richmond and the work we do.
H5RVA: What are you going to do with this High Five?
Kate: I hope to let the High Five do the talking and get the word out to more of the fabulous people of Richmond what ReEstablish Richmond does. Oh, and we'll share the High Five to our followers and they'll learn about all the wonderful people and organizations also doing great work in our city.