By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Ahmed Hussein fled his home in Somalia more than two decades ago. He had a family, neighbors, school and a vision for his life. All that changed when he was forced to become a refugee.
St. Albert the Great Church parishioners heard his story May 15 in the parish’s Visitation Hall.
“Imagine waking up one morning to the sounds of artillery and the sound of all kinds of firearms. Imagine people of your neighborhood running for cover from an alley to an alley,” said Hussein, who now works as an employment team leader at Catholic Charities of Louisville.
His reflections were part of a workshop presented by Catholic Charities called “Seeking Refuge.”
The evening included several speakers who discussed refugee resettlement internationally and here in Louisville.
“I think refugee resettlement is a special charism for Louisville,” Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities, told her listeners. “There are not a whole lot of places that are both Southern and Catholic.”
Louisville, she said, has a unique blend of being both a Southern city, which by nature is welcoming, and also being, at least in large part, Catholic.
“As Catholics we are called to welcome the stranger, including our brothers and sisters overseas,” DeJaco Crutcher said.
Those in attendance also heard about a refugee resettlement experience that happened closer to home. Before, the workshop, St. Albert seventh- and eighth-graders took part in a refugee camp simulation called “Seeking Refuge: Forced to Flee.”
Children learn about what happens to refugees in camps, where families can sometimes live for decades.
Joseph Eng, a St. Albert seventh-grader, said the experience made him realize how lucky he was.
Leah Simpson, a St. Albert graduate and current sophomore at Mercy Academy, said the simulation camp was an opportunity to learn what refugees must face while waiting to be resettled.
“I realized how difficult it was to navigate the process,” she said.
The simulation is designed to provide participants “with a better understanding and foster a sense of solidarity with our refugee brothers and sisters,” DeJaco Crutcher said.
These refugee brothers and sisters number about 65 million worldwide. They have been forcibly displaced by a host of factors including war, persecution and violence, noted Colin Triplett, director of Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.
“In the past two years, we provided services for 2,290 refugees,” Triplett said during the workshop. “In the past two years, 36 percent of all those refugees were children. We are not talking about single men who are coming as refugees. We are talking about families.”
The three countries with the largest number of refugees resettled by Catholic Charities of Louisville are Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. The agency has also received clients from Bhutan, Iraq, Syria, Burma, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Haiti, he said.
“Our clients come from all different backgrounds. I have personally had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of refugees that were engineers, that were teachers, lawyers, politicians and many, many doctors.
“That image of the person that is coming to live permanently here is sometimes skewed when you don’t have the opportunity to know our refugee clients,” Triplett said.
Hussein, who is now a U.S. citizen, said the notion that refugees come to the U.S. and subsist on welfare with no contribution to the economy is nonsense.
“I got a job as soon as I came here and I’ve been on the payroll ever since. I’ve been working all those years and paying taxes,” he said.
The May 15 workshop is a new program offered by Catholic Charities and is designed to follow the simulation camp, which is offered in schools around the archdiocese each year. Parishes interested in bringing the workshop to their church should call Chris Martini at 636-9786, ext. 114.
Catholic Charities also offers volunteer opportunities for those who’d like to work with refugees. For more information, visit cclou.org.