Project 52: Take a refugee family clothes shopping

Project 52!  Yay!  We did it!  This is the last project to wrap up our “year of service.”  Unfortunately, Abby left this morning to go to Nebraska and visit her Gram, so she wasn’t able to help me with this one.  I will definitely share it with her, though!

Our church (King of Glory Lutheran in Dallas) participates in a refugee resettlement ministry.  For quite a while, I have been on the list for the ministry, but before today I hadn’t yet made it out to help with one of the families.  Our church gets paired up with refugee families, and we help with such things as furnishing an apartment, welcoming the family at the airport, and taking them grocery shopping.  Today we were tasked with purchasing some clothes for the family.

The family we are helping is the Yuang family.  They are from Burma/Myanmar.  The family was expelled from their home under the threat of death due to their ethnicity, and they spent the past 13 years in a refugee camp in the remote jungles of Thailand.  Below are some examples of the villages in Thailand…

The family consists of the mother and father, a thirteen year old boy, a nine (or maybe ten) year old girl, a six-year-old girl, and a one year old girl.  It’s remarkable to realize that none of those children ever experienced anything beyond the refugee camp before coming to America.

My friend Petrina (who has helped with this family before) and I met the family at their little apartment in Dallas.  No one in the family speaks English, but they are already starting to pick up a few words.  The 9/10-year-old girl really stood out to me.  She was just beautiful and so friendly and sweet.   When they opened the door for me, she was standing there ready to shake my hand and said “Good morning!”  (Granted, it was 2 pm, but I happily said “Good morning!” back to her.)  We did a little inventory of the clothes the family already had (not much), and we set out to shop.

Our experience today was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had.  It was truly a lesson in realizing how much I take for granted some of the little luxuries in life.  I took the mother and the two youngest girls in my car, since I already had the car seats.  It blew me away how the mother really did not understand the most basic parts of the car.  I opened the back door to buckle in the baby in the back, and she climbed into the middle of the back seat between the car seats.  (There is not much room there.)  I motioned that she should sit in the front seat.  So, she crawled up between the seats.  At first, I figured she just thought that was easier than getting out and walking around.  After getting in and out of the car a couple of times, I realized that she did not know how to open the car door – from the inside or the outside.  I had to show her a couple of times how to pull the handle and then push the door out.  I also motioned to her that she should put her seat belt on.  Such a simple thing – and she really did not know what to do.  She managed to put it on with most of it behind her.  Eventually, we got it figured out.

Our first stop was at Goodwill.  Petrina thought it would be a good idea to take the family there to teach them how to shop “thrifty,” since they are supposed to be self-sufficient within 6 months under the program.  I had never been to Goodwill before, other than to drop off donations outside.  I learned a few things:  (1) the standards for what they will put on the shelves at Goodwill are very low, and (2) the things they put out are unlabeled and very unorganized.  It was quite a challenge to find clothes for people when you have no idea what size they are or where to find that size!  (For example, there was a rack of probably 100 pairs of girls’ jeans.  None of them had a tag showing the size, and they were not organized by size.  The only way to find the size was to take it off the hanger and look inside.

Once inside Goodwill, I took the three older kids and Petrina took the parents and the baby so we could find a few pieces of clothing for each person.  It didn’t take long before the kids caught on and were able to show me what they wanted.  I was quite surprised that they expressed their opinions as to what they did or did not want.  I fully expected them to feel they could not say no to anything I suggested, but I was definitely wrong!  They knew what they wanted.  I can’t say I ever really figured that out, but I think they were happy with the selections.  Here are a few shots of the kids shopping…

Here are Petrina, the mother and the baby…

The clothes are basically organized by color, so I more or less got the kids to show me which color they wanted.  I was surprised to see so many vacation t-shirts, kids’ soccer jerseys, high school t-shirts, and other random, very personal t-shirts.  (I always just throw my old ones away – but apparently some people may like them.)  The boy randomly picked out a Mavericks shirt, and I told him that was a great choice!  (I did steer him away from all the Aggie clothes I saw, though ;)).  Here is a shot of the whole family at Goodwill:

After we finished at Goodwill, we went to this discount store near the apartment.  It reminded me of Ross or TJ Maxx, only cheaper.  We went there to buy underwear for everyone.   This was another example of how this family made me realize how much I take for granted some of the little things in life – like underwear.  Before our purchases, this family had never had any underwear.  Petrina had to try to explain underwear to them, which is a little difficult with the language barrier!

While we were at the store, the six-year-old turned to her mother and said something.  Then the mother said, “Toilet” and pointed to the little girl.  I took the little girl by the hand and off we went to find the bathroom.  Not-too-surprisingly, the low-cost discount store refused to let us use the bathroom.  We had to run next door into the grocery store to find one.  When we got there, it became obvious that this poor little girl must not have been feeling very well.  Let’s just say we were in there for quite a while.  I was stunned at the fact that she never once complained and never once let on that she wasn’t feeling so good.   She just suffered in complete silence.  Every little kid (and frankly probably every adult) I know would have been obvious in their misery.  Not this sweet little girl.  It really made me sad to think about the kind of life she must have lived to react the way she did.  When we headed back to the store, it was obvious she was feeling better, as she gave me a huge smile and started skipping off back to the discount store.

After we finished our shopping trip, we took the family back to the apartment and sorted out the clothes for them.  When we left, they were so gracious.  The oldest girl was trying her best to learn our names.  They all knew the word “Thank You” and shook our hands.

In a few weeks, I’ll be going back to see the family again and take them grocery shopping.  I am really looking forward to it!  I bet they will have picked up even more English by that time – especially the children.  (If you would like to read more about this family and our refugee ministry, you can visit that blog here.)

Well, that wraps up the last project of the year!  Watch for a year-end summary post in the coming days to wrap everything up.  Not to worry – we will definitely be continuing with our projects in the future!

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