St. Vincent Catholic Charities

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The Manzul family – parents Kamal and Nadia, and their children, Jean-Paul, 8, and Grace, 6 – fled from unrest in the Democratic Republic of Congo to neighboring Uganda in 2012 with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Their immediate families had all beenmurdered. The Manzul family knew they were not welcome in Uganda, as the country had taken in more refugees than it could accommodate. Three years after applying for refugee resettlement in the U.S., they are about to be met at Lansing’s airport by managers from St. Vincent Catholic Charities Refugee Services Program (STVCC). Awaiting the family is a fully-furnished, two bedroom apartment in Lansing. For the next 90 days, a Refugee Services case manager will help the Manzul family integrate into the community, learning English, finding employment for the parents, enrolling the children in school, helping them master the transportation system to get to and from work, and showing places to shop and do laundry. Back to the Manzul family in a moment. For the last 40 years, STVCC has served as mid Michigan’s only resettlement site for families and children approved for refugee status. This April, St. Vincent’s holds its annual “Spring Into Giving” month-long drive for donations to assist refugee families. In 2016, St. Vincent’s helped resettle 776 refugee individuals and families in Lansing. “Our spring drive for donations helps make possible fully-furnished housing for refugee families.” Everything needed for a household is welcome during the spring drive – new twin and double sheets, towels, washcloths, lamps, slightly-used furniture (no mattresses), cleaning supplies and household tools, gift cards to purchase clothes and food, bath needs, including
shampoo and soap, shaving items, deodorant, toilet paper and tissue, and CATA bus passes. Items can be dropped off during business hours at the 2017 Refugee Resettlement sponsor, LAFCU (check to see if your branch participates) or at St. Vincent’s, 2800 W. Willow Road, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. Financial donations to the Refugee Resettlement Program are also appreciated. Essential to St. Vincent’s Refugee Resettlement Program are volunteers like Dave Herring, who has served on the Board of Directors, as a family mentor and tutor. He recalls helping young adult women learn how to maintain donated bicycles. “The refugee families may show tough exteriors, but inside they are no different from my grandchildren, who wanted to be listened to and loved. The same holds true for adults, who have endured physical, emotional and mental abuse from those trying to impose their political will, while tearing down families’ social heritages and religious practices.” Karasinski adds: “As a Catholic agency, we resettle refuges because our faith tells us all human life has value. Refugees are individuals who have sought asylum from their native country due to persecution for their race, religion, nationality or group affiliation. These individuals fear for their lives and their family. They seek safety in a country that will use their unique gifts for family financial security and inclusion in a diverse community that can benefit from embracing the cultural experiences these families bring.” Nine months later, the Manzul family has mastered basic English. The father, Kamul, had a variety of mechanical skills and is employed as a janitor by a local Catholic parish. The mother, Nadia, knows how to cook, and is employed at a local restaurant, preparing soups and salads. Both children  are enrolled in Lansing Public Schools, quickly learning  English and cultural norms that they then teach to their parents. Kamul and the children ride bicycles to work and school, and Nadia has mastered the bus transit system to get to and from work. Their apartment is spotless. They have joined a local parish, and a Refugee Services mentor has helped them continue English classes, arranged for health care, and helped the parents learn basic budgeting and establish an account with a local credit union. Before they ever arrived in Lansing, the Manzul family was interviewed by the United Nations High Commission for  Refugees. They are among the less than one percent of refugees accepted for resettlement in the U.S. STVCC, in collaboration  with the  United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, continues to serve as a refugee resettlement center. The resettlement program employs 35 staffers, 10-15 contractual interpreters and more than 60 volunteer mentors and tutors. Andrea Sekya, CEO of STVCC, affirms the agency’s commitment  to refugee resettlement, despite action taken by the new  U.S. administration. She adds: “Lansing has benefited economically and culturally, as these refugees have revitalized our neighborhoods, supported our businesses, and graduated from our public schools. We are proud to be mid-Michigan’s refuges resettlement agency, and to provide a safe, welcoming home to these families.” “Refugee families,” concludes Judi Harris, “are required  to repay the U.S. government for their travel to the U.S., which helps them build financial credit. We have families who have repaid their travel in less than three years. If you think about  how much these families have to learn, it’s amazing how much these families contribute to the local economy and community. They work hard, they give back, and they are so grateful for being able to start a new chapter in their lives. Our ‘Spring Into Giving’ is what gives these families a second chance.”