What’s it like to work at Catholic Charities?” is a question I tend to get from family and friends. When I ask what they mean, the response is something like, “You know, you work with people from so many countries and backgrounds, it has to be different.”
Five years ago, when I started working with the Migration and Refugee Services program at Catholic Charities, I didn’t really know what I was walking into. I knew the basics — the definition of a refugee, why they had to leave their country, and that Catholic Charities helped with the resettlement process. But outside of a couple volunteer opportunities in college, I didn’t have any real experience in the resettlement world.
My first couple months consisted of constantly asking co-workers, many former refugees themselves, how the resettlement process worked.
As I started going out to parishes and schools to talk about Catholic Charities and the refugee program, I would be accompanied by a client or a staff member who had agreed to share their personal journey as a refugee. During these presentations, I probably learned more from the stories than I was able to teach to the group during my presentation.
It was fascinating and at times heartbreaking to hear these stories and what they and their families went through. I have such high admiration for these clients and staff, not only for what they went through but for being willing to share their stories with complete strangers.
One of my co-workers who is always willing to share his story and answer questions about his experience as a refugee is our employment team leader, Ahmed Hussein.
Ahmed is a Somali refugee who came to Kentucky after spending eight years in a Kenyan refugee camp. I remember when I first met Ahmed, I asked why they chose Louisville as a destination, and his response was really eye-opening to the entire resettlement process, “Man, we didn’t choose Louisville, they (the United Nations High Commission for Refugees) choose for you, and you take the destination they offer.”
That was in 1997, and since that time Ahmed and his family have made their home in Louisville. For the last nine years, Ahmed has been helping refugee clients find jobs and acclimate to the United States.
As my time at Catholic Charities has gone on, I have had numerous conversations with Ahmed about the differences and similarities in our backgrounds — everything from culture and religion to music and sports. Of course, there are differences but, without sounding like a cliché, there are as many similarities as differences.
During one of these conversations, I asked him the question I get from my family and friends, “What is it like to work with people from so many different backgrounds?” His answer summed it up perfectly:
“No matter where we are from we all have the same vision. That’s what unites us. We all want to help our clients and community; because of that I don’t really feel a difference.”
Chris Martini is engagement and events coordinator for Catholic Charities of Louisville.