I've been struggling to publish a post for a few days now. I was late on getting out my Father's Day tribute and I didn't feel like hitting home the fact that the humidity still surrounds me. It hit me hard on Monday what I wanted to write about. It's taken me a few tears and memories to get through, but it's worthwhile and something dear to my heart. Warning, this might be a long one.
You may have seen pictures I've posted of this beautiful girl:
Back in 2007, I was working at a coffee shop that was conveniently located right below a growing organization's office. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) had recently established one of its transition cities in Boise, ID. The office was small, but the smiles surrounding this building were out numbered. I watched the activity of this organization take place only a few feet from my work's door and I was curious/interested to know just what was going on. Boise isn't the most diverse city, but in 2007 I swear I saw more faces representing different countries than I ever have while traveling through an international airport. Boise has become the new home for refugees from countries across the globe. After one morning shift of brewing the coffee beans, I walked my tired legs up the stairs into an office decorated with pictures of farmers, jewelers, dish washers, mothers and volunteers. I walked into the IRC with a million questions and left with one of the most amazing "assignments."
I have always been interested in pre-teen and teen girls. This is the most changing time for a young woman and can often be the most influential period of her life. I was once at this age and I can remember the feelings vividly. I explained this interest to one of the IRC program directors and was quickly matched with a volunteer who would show me the ropes. Three days later, I was invited to join this volunteer at a local community recreation center. I walked through the doors of an art class where kids from ages 7 - 15 were drawing, painting, coloring and laughing. I was in heaven. I looked around and thought, "okay so now what?" It wasn't more than a few seconds that I was tapped on the back by the volunteer and she escorted me to the main hall. She said, "Brittanie, I have a girl for you who I think will be perfect. Her name is Amana. She has 2 cousins and 1 brother. She is the only girl. Her parents aren't in Boise. She needs a mentor. . . Let me go get her." I stood in my tracks unsure about what she just explained, but crossed my fingers and wiped my sweat. The most beautiful and bright-eyed girl came walking towards me wearing a red bandana, a long-sleeved yellow shirt, a jean skirt and black flip flops. She was taller than I expected and carried the most frightened look on her face.
The volunteer introduced us and quickly said these words, (words which have never left my mind and were the words that truly changed my life) - "Amana, this is Brittanie. She is going to be working with you on your homework, on your English, and on showing you around. Amana, she is only going to be working with you. Not your brother and not your cousins." With only a few words under her English belt, Amana asked, "for me?" The volunteer replied, "Amana, just for you!" I have never seen a smile so big or known a feeling so strong. I smiled (and almost cried) and we gave each other the biggest hug. This was a hug meant for sisters and meant for best friends. This was and has been the best hug I have ever received. Amana and I came into each other's lives for a reason.
I met Amana when she was an energetic, hilarious and outgoing 13-years-old. Fast forward 4 years, Amana is getting ready to enter her senior year of high school and has grown-up immensely since we first met. It was during my time of getting to know and learn from Amana that I found a new passion in life and changed the course of my college direction. We had weekly grammar sessions, homework nights, movie marathons, one too many ice cream runs, dance parties, driving lessons (shh), talks about boys and the appropriate age to date, the cruelty that falls in the land of being a girl, and many nights talking about our lives and where we come from. Amana has a background I can't even imagine. She knows more about death and destruction than one person should know. She knows more about searching for food in her own home. She knows how to raise a chicken, kill a chicken, and eat a chicken ( rather than shopping down the poultry aisle). She knows how to braid hair in designs I couldn't even attempt to draw. Beyond our differences and matching our similarities, she has taught me about life, respect, trust, courage and determination to look past the challenges of today and know what's in store for tomorrow. She has taught me how to laugh at the little things and learn from bigger mistakes.
So while I thought about writing about my recent weekend and the happenings that have taken place, I started to write this on Monday in celebration of "Refugee Day" or "Africa Refugee Day." I knew I wanted to volunteer doing something different back in 2007, but what I didn't realize was how much I wanted to learn, ask or help those who have a reason to celebrate their strength, optimism and hope for a brighter tomorrow.
If you're looking for ways to give back, and possibly become a mentor yourself - check out your local community volunteer programs or see if the IRC, or another refugee resettlement agency, is located in your backyard. If you're interested in learning more about Refugee Day, check out this amazing article. If you're simply curious to know more about Amana and I now, or questions about volunteering, please send me an email.