It’s been raining in West Virginia for days. So far in 2020, we’ve had 28 inches of rainfall. Our yearly average is 45 inches. The rain that nourishes our crops also causes mudslides, rock slides, road slippage and flooding creeks and rivers, causing death and isolation, as communities are cut off from each other, with no way in or out.
It’s also raining in my heart as I think of victims of the various pandemics facing the world. Some of these pandemics affect people daily (the pandemics of poverty, unequal access to and provision of health care, inequitable education and racially motivated police tactics resulting in the deaths of our Black and Brown sisters and brothers). The coronavirus is “new.” However, its effects fall disproportionately on people of color. This new pandemic does not rain down on all persons in equal measure.
The isolation required during this time of pandemic has caused us to become increasingly cut off from each other.
In pandemic times, when our lives are upended, when what we thought was certain no longer is, when we cannot depend on what we believed to be true, we are apt to lose our way. We become fearful and adopt a “fight or flight” attitude (too often choosing to fight). We lose our reference points, including our moral compass.
We are not unique. The pattern of obedience, sin, repentance, forgiveness, obedience, sin … is recorded in our Sacred Texts. This is the human condition relative to our Creator.
But, can we not break the cycle? Are we destined to murder our sisters and brothers, as related in the sacred story of Cain and Abel (Genesis chapter 4)? Can we not offer forgiveness, mercy and justice to all, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, faith (or no faith) tradition, gender identity and who we love? Can we not denounce all -isms, except those which build up all of creation?
West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry. At the heart of what we do, who we are is: Interfaith. Our vision is guided by our beliefs, our moral compass.
I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In lay terms, G-d says, “Don’t come to me checking off all the things you’ve done that make you ‘good.’ I want to see justice and righteousness.”
G-d, speaking through the prophet Micah, was even more clear (Micah 6:8):
He [G-d] has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Decades earlier, the author of the book of Proverbs wrote (Proverbs 31:8-9):
Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
What will our rain be composed of? Harsh words, bullets, violence, discrimination?
Or will we let “ justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?”
We’re in this for the long haul!
When families from Africa came to Charleston for resettlement 16 months ago, a crew of volunteers went into action: securing housing and furnishings; setting up utility accounts; stocking the pantry; finding clothing suitable to West Virginia weather; enrolling the children in school; obtaining immunizations …
After immediate needs were met, orientation to Charleston and West Virginia began. This included introduction to grocery stores; medical providers including HealthRight; ESL classes and tutors; faith communities; the bus system; technology (the school system uses iPads); and the local USCIS office.
Our pro bono attorney and WVIRM co-founder, Lynn Clarke, has provided hundreds of hours helping the families achieve a formal declaration of acceptance of their applications for asylum. Court hearings have been postponed due to the Court’s failure to obtain a translator and, now, because of the coronavirus.
Still, we press on.
After all, if these families can travel thousands of miles (by foot, ship, bus, horse and foot again) over some of the most dangerous terrain in the world, how can we not persevere? The families’ faith provides hope to us all.
Welcoming the families to Charleston doesn’t stop with a furnished house. The families have emotional needs as well. They are far from their families and worried about the effects of the coronavirus in their home countries. In addition, their relatives may be subject to greater scrutiny because of the activities of the families seeking asylum here in the U.S.
Church World Service offers these tips to stay connected. Try one today!
- Share DVDs or Audio Books. The Stay-at-Home Order limits the families’ ability to interact with native English speakers. The more they can practice English, the better their chances of getting hired when the economy opens back up.
- Consider ordering some fresh groceries and have them delivered to a newly arrived client’s home. Some ideas: Fruits, Vegetables, Rice, Bread, Milk and Eggs. We’ll be posting foods the families like on our website or Facebook page soon.
- Due to the reduction and laying off of some service industry jobs, consider donating to a client’s rent to provide an extra cushion of support.
- The families’ cell phone plans do not cover international phone calls. A gift card would be appreciated.
Check our Facebook page and group page frequently for more ideas on how to keep West Virginia, Wild, Wonderful and Welcoming.
After traveling thousands of miles by cargo ship, by bus and on foot, the families arrived at the U.S./Mexico Border. They had survived the most dangerous jungle in the world, the Darien Gap in Panama, known as the “Migrants’ Graveyard.” They arrived in the United States shortly before President Trump restricted admission of refugees and others seeking asylum. They arrived safely in Charleston where they received shelter, food and welcoming arms. We breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Sixteen months after their arrival in Charleston, the families face additional struggles.
The Coronavirus has limited or halted their employment entirely. A former nurse was offered a job at a nursing home just days before the Governor’s stay-at-home order. Her husband was ready to take his driver’s license test, the first step toward obtaining a CDL license, when the Department of Motor Vehicles closed. The business that employed the second couple has reduced production, cutting their hours severely.
These two families who were on the road to self-sufficiency need our help more than ever. Will you answer the call?
Following is a letter from the President of our Board of Directors, on behalf of WVIRM, asking that you listen to the cries of those who have had to leave their homes and flee to a foreign country, because their lives and the lives of their families were in danger. Will you listen to their cries? Will you donate now?
Dear Friend of WV Interfaith Refugee Ministry:
As the world deals with this unprecedented pandemic, WVIRM finds itself facing an unprecedented situation. The COVID-19 virus is affecting all of our families, and our way of life.
At WVIRM, we are facing this same difficulty as many other households, businesses and nonprofit organizations. Our current funding will last only about 5 more months. We cannot do it alone without your help to support our two families.
For the past 16 months, we have been supporting two families from the Republic of Congo and Angola, each with small children, who are seeking asylum in the United States. We provide full financial support and cultural orientation while they try to learn how to adjust to life in a new country, earn a living and become self-independent, productive members of our beautiful State.
They were well on their way to self-sufficiency when the COVID-19 epidemic turned everything upside down. We hope they will be able to return to work by the end of the year, but if not, we need to be prepared to help.
We know friends of WVIRM are committed to ensuring that our mission to help support immigrants and refugees continues and that no family goes hungry during these difficult times.
We come to you at this time to appeal to your heart with an urgent request for help. Most of us will be receiving a check from the Stimulus Package our government is implementing. We ask you to consider sharing part or all of that check with our organization.
The donation will be tax-deductible. The CARES Act contains a provision allowing individuals to take a $300 above-the-line deduction for cash contributions to charities, regardless of whether or not the individual itemizes deductions. This is a win-win provision! You help WVIRM help families, and you get an additional tax deduction!
We are a very small nonprofit organization that is run primarily by volunteers with a part-time Executive Director supported by grant-funding. All of your donations will go into an emergency fund supporting the families.
We understand and respect how difficult these times are on us all; how stressful this is for everyone. Please help those who are less fortunate than you and those who are trying to get their life started in this country, as most of us and our ancestors did. Make a financial contribution to WVIRM. Anything is appreciated. No donation is too small.
Donations can be made online at http://www.WVIRM.com or via check to P.O Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361.
Thank you for caring and for your generosity.
Ibtesam Sue Barazi, Board President, WVIRM
If there is anything constant in life, other than death and taxes, it is this: Plans Change. COVID-19 has altered all our plans. College and lower level school classes are being held online. Graduations have been canceled; proms, too. We don’t run out to the store to purchase something just because we think we need it. We’re being more careful how we spend money, because our continued employment is not assured. First time homebuyers: how are they going to make their house payments? This is the story for the middle class.
But what about those living paycheck to paycheck, or on public assistance, or without income at all? According to an article written in Marketwatch.com in May 2019 (before the new coronavirus hit), millions of Americans are one paycheck away from financial disaster.
“Certain communities were more prone to economic hardship in the event of missing a paycheck. Roughly two-thirds of households earning less than $30,000 annually and Hispanic households would be unable to cover basic living expenses after missing more than one paycheck, the researchers [from the Federal Reserve] found.”
Consider, then, those persons who are barred from receiving unemployment compensation, TANF and SNAP benefits. Consider the two families seeking asylum in the United States that WVIRM is resettling in Charleston, West Virginia. Employment comparable to what they held in their native countries has not been possible due to limited English fluency and professional licensing requirements. Like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, they are depending “on the kindness of strangers.” Strangers such as you and me.
In strange times such as these, donations to charitable organizations decline. Understandably so. But there are still ways you can help WVIRM help the families we support. Here are a few examples:
- When shopping BOGO deals, donate your extra item. We’ll pick it up.
- Do you receive items from a food pantry you don’t like or need? We’ll pick those up, too.
- Hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, bars of soap – anything to help combat the virus – would be appreciated.
- Bus passes are needed. You can buy these online and mail them to our office at PO Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361.
- Share this article on social media. The wider the audience, the greater the potential for help.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) contains incentives for charitable giving:
Charitable Giving Incentive: Creates a new above-the-line deduction (universal or non-itemizer deduction that applies to all taxpayers) for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to cash contributions made in 2020 and can be claimed on tax forms next year. Section 2204. The law also lifts the existing cap on annual contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60 percent of adjusted gross income to 100 percent. For corporations, the law raises the annual limit from 10 percent to 25 percent. Food donations from corporations would be available to 25 percent, up from the current 15 percent cap. Section 2205.
Plans change. Life as we knew it is different. What doesn’t change, what hasn’t changed, is the can-do spirit of the American people. West Virginians, in particular, have a history of helping their neighbors. Mountaineers are strong, resilient, proud, creative and compassionate.
WVIRM was founded by people of faith who wanted to put their faith into action. Let’s put feet to our faith. Together, following the guidelines of trusted health professionals, we will survive this pandemic and come out better on the other side.
Please share your ideas of how to help each other and the two families we support, while maintaining safe health practices. And, if you are able, please use the donate button to make a financial contribution.
In 2019, WVIRM welcomed and assisted 3 asylum seeking families right here in Charleston, WV. Two have stayed here, and with WVIRM’s help the children are enrolled and thriving in school, and the adults are rapidly learning English and adapting to life in our community. All four adults obtained work permits and found jobs, and we at WVIRM heard high praise from their employers. Unfortunately, governmental policies respecting work permits for asylum seekers are currently causing a gap in employment, as one category of work permit has expired for all of them, and they have to wait for work permits in the next category. But WVIRM, thanks to your generosity, is keeping them safe, housed and fed, until they can move again toward independence as soon as the next category of work permits arrive.
Through the generosity of our donors, and through local grant funding, we have hired an Executive Director, Betty Ann (BA) Miskowiec, email@example.com, and she is greatly expanding WVIRM’s ability to recruit volunteers to help our current families, and to further our efforts to bring more asylum seeking families to our community. We also have not given up hope of someday seeking approval once again from the U.S. State Department to bring refugees for resettlement in our beloved West Virginia.
Through a partnership with the Islamic Association of West Virginia, WVIRM has also funded scholarships for four West Virginia students, with refugee, asylee or Temporary Protected Status, to continue their studies at Marshall University and WVU. We are so proud of these hardworking WV student scholars! We have also funded, through a donation to the Syrian American Medical Society, the living expenses of 8 medical student who have fled Syria and are studying medicine in Turkey.
WVIRM is also working hard to educate our community members about the migrant crisis. WVIRM participated in Civil Rights Day at the Legislature, and continues to update our representatives in government. We have attended religious and community meetings and events, giving informational talks, and handing out well researched, accurate information on the crisis.
With ACLU West Virginia, we sponsored the movie “Midnight Traveler” at the Floralee Hark Cohen Underground Cinema. Afghan filmmaker Hassan Fazili and his family were forced to flee their country when the Taliban put a bounty on his head. This documentary was well-received and provided insight into some of the difficulties our asylees have faced in their journey toward freedom.
It truly does take a village. Please help WVIRM continue to grow, and to provide safety, right here in West Virginia, for asylum seeking families who are so grateful for a chance to live and work among us. WVIRM is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, and your donation can be sent by check to WVIRM P.O. Box 5387, Charleston, WV 25361, or you can donate online by clicking on the “WVIRM donate button” at http://www.wvdiocese.org/pages/aa-egiving.html the egiving page of our fiscal agent, the WV Episcopal Diocese. Donations are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.
Thank you so much for your support of WVIRM. Together we are saving lives and growing our community! Best wishes for the holidays and a safe and Happy New Year!
When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee the country with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing the family’s uncertain journey firsthand, Fazili documents their harrowing trek across numerous borders revealing the danger and uncertainty facing refugees seeking asylum juxtaposed with the unbreakable love shared amongst the family on the run._____________________________________________________________________________________________
One of the pleasures of being associated with West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry, and other Immigrants Rights groups in Charleston, is having the opportunity to present real-life stories to a wide audience, to educate people about issues facing displaced persons and the lengths one will go to gain civil liberties and the safety and well-being of one’s family.
WVIRM and ACLU West Virginia will co-sponsor the documentary Midnight Traveler on Mondays in December at the Floralee Hark Cohen cinema beneath Taylor Books on Capitol Street in Charleston. This presentation is part of the “Mondays that Matter” series of films which highlight social, environmental and justice issues.
On December 9, representatives of both sponsoring organizations will discuss current issues affecting displaced persons, what the Charleston community is doing to improve the ives of immigrants and asylum seekers, and how individuals can become involved.
Watch the trailer here. here
Buy tickets here. here
HIAS, a Jewish-American nonprofit group, Church World Service and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services filed suit on November 21, 2019 asking a federal district judge in Maryland to block enforcement of an Executive Order issued by U.S. President Donald Trump which gives local officials the right to reject resettlement of refugees in their state or local area. This rule can effectively separate families, adding to the hardships that refugees face in their home countries.
Read more about this lawsuit here.
In December of 2018 WVIRM welcomed two asylum seeking families fleeing persecution in their home countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo on the basis of their political opinions and social group membership. Another family, fleeing similar persecution, arrived in January of 2019.
WVIRM has aided these families, consisting of seven adults and seven children since then. One family moved on to be with relatives, but the other two remain. WVIRM’s volunteers have partnered with other charities in Charleston, West Virginia to provide housing, food, gently used clothing, school supplies and English as a Second Language Learning to our asylum seeking families. The children have done very well in school, and the adults are rapidly learning English. The families have participated in community activities and our hope is that they will someday gain asylum status and be on a path to self sufficiency and success in our beautiful country and the great State of West Virginia.
In partnership with the Islamic Association of West Virginia, WVIRM is excited to announce the WVIRM/IAWV Educational Scholarship Program. The program will award grants to some of the newest West Virginian refugee, asylums, non-US citizen immigrants and Temporary Protected Status students in our beloved Mountain State. Criteria to be eligible to apply for an award, and information about the application process, as well as forms are available on our new webpage here WVIRM/IAWV EDUCATIONAL SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM
Please follow us on Facebook and here at our WVIRM website for lots of opportunities this summer! We are planning to participate in Charleston WV’s Artwalk and other summer events so you can learn more about doing our part to aid the rising number of refugees worldwide! In other WVIRM news, we continue to work on our local and overseas refugee scholarship programs – stay in touch to learn more!