February 26, 2015

Last fall, *John arrived in the U.S. as a refugee with his family---but safety was only one of the challenges his family faced.  He needed to work, but his wife was struggling with a debilitating heart condition; his daughter was suffering from unstable diabetes; and his brother was confined to a wheelchair.  After learning about the family’s circumstances, WRDA staff and volunteers began planning to meet their many needs.

Helping clients in complex situations requires coordination of efforts, collaboration across services and programs, involvement of the church, and community volunteer support.

The first year of resettlement is crucial in every case---especially in complicated situations.  Therefore, staff across WRDA programs come together weekly to coordinate services and track client progress.  The meeting is comprised of representatives from each area of service: initial resettlement, medical, education, employment, and counseling. And while the weekly meeting is not the only time for staff collaboration, it is key.

"The purpose of the case briefing meeting is to help staff coordinate and plan services, as well as communicate client progress," said Susan Sperry, Refugee Services Director.

With the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration, the staff share information and collaborate on problem-solving.  At the intervals of 3, 7 and 11 months post arrival, each household or individual case is reviewed and staff identify key areas for follow-up and service provision. Individuals or households struggling to adjust receive the benefit of a multi-tiered coordination of services.

Every case is different; therefore, the intensity of services varies too.  According to Sperry, a team-based approach to case management is the most effective because refugees receive the layers of care needed to be successful in the U.S.

"The goal is to have each refugee family well-grounded by the end of the first year," said Sperry.

And while there is no exact definition for success, the vision of World Relief is to see people transformed economically, socially and spiritually, which can be understood in terms of some key benchmarks:

  • The ability to pay bills, which means the individual or member of the household has a job with a steady income
  • A network of support in the community, which includes friends, neighbors, churches, faith communities, and other service providers

Working together across disciplines and integrating volunteers, the team is able to address multiple and complex challenges in ways that individual workers cannot; for example, John and his family.

After securing a handicapped-accessible apartment for the family, their case manager brought together the medical coordinator and a representative from the education and employment teams. Together, the team prepared a proactive plan for stabilization and provided updates on the family’s progress during their weekly case briefing meeting. The plan was discussed with John and implemented through a combination of staff and volunteer activity designed to meet the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration.

Within three months, John secured a job, his wife had heart surgery, both John and his daughter learned how to manage her diabetes, and the entire family was connected to volunteers from a local church. 

Click here to learn more about the departments that make up Refugee Services at WRDA.

* For the protection of the client, we have changed his name to John for the purpose of retelling his story

January 28, 2015

The New Year is synonymous with a fresh start.  As December draws to a close, many people commit to a resolution---often to manage their health, money, or time better.    For a refugee leaving behind their home and culture, a new beginning can seem overwhelming.  However, despite challenges and fears, refugees arrive in the U.S. with concrete goals for the future.

Prior to Christmas break, Karen Edwards, WRDA ESL Instructor in DuPage, gave her students a goal-setting assignment from their Step Forward 2 textbook.  Students were asked to read an article about a person who wanted to become a chef, which led to a class discussion of goals and the steps required to reach the goal.  Edwards decided to take the assignment further and asked the students to write a paragraph about their personal goal.  And because many of the students are creative and artistic, she also asked them to draw an illustration. 

“The assignment came alive when the students shared their goals during class in small groups,” said Edwards.

Sensing the students’ enthusiasm, Edwards asked if anyone wanted to come to the front of the class and be recorded on video---and several students were brave enough to do it.  According to Edwards, students who shared on camera not only talked about their goals, but their dreams too!

Adil Idris Adam Ali has been in the U.S for only 11 months.  Originally from the Sudan, he enjoys exploring nature and working outside. As a result, his goal is to become a geologist; however, in order to reach this goal, Adil knows that he must continue with English classes. Currently, he works third shift packaging magazines for distribution, but hopes to be moved to the first shift soon so that he can start taking classes at College of DuPage.

Maha Mohamed was resettled by WRDA approximately 18 month ago.  She was working towards becoming a nurse in her home country of Sudan prior to fleeing to Egypt for safety.  Today, she still dreams about becoming a nurse; therefore, she continues to attend WRDA ESL classes to improve her English.  Maha’s goal is to start nursing school in three years.  However, nursing is not her only goal.  Due to her love of baking, Maha’s second dream is to be a chef.

Exiled from his home country of Burma, Kaw Tha Blay spent 13 years in a refugee camp prior to being resettled by World Relief in DuPage.  Fortunately, Kaw was able to attend school in the camp and learn some English, but he craves more education.  In fact, he wants to earn a teaching degree so that he can teach others English and how to use a computer.  After experiencing so much conflict in Burma, Kaw believes that in order for people to live in peace together they must be educated; therefore, he hopes to reach his goal of becoming a teacher by the year 2030.

When Bibi Rai was just 16 years-old, he fled the Bhutan with his family for a refugee camp in Napal, where they lived for 18 years.  Because his father passed away when Bibi was young, he only attended school for a couple of years because he had to help support his family.  However, with little education and no understanding of English, he has landed a job, earned a driver’s license, and purchased a car.  Mechanically inclined, Bibi is now working towards his goal of becoming a car mechanic.  He would like to start preparing for his new career now, but knows that he must improve his English speaking and writing skills. Ideally, his dream is to start his training in the next six months.

Learning to speak, read, and write the English is the foundation to achieving any goal for a newly arrived refugee.  If you would like to be a part of helping someone realize their dream by becoming an ESL tutor, contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Services Manager, at 630-462-7566 x 1046 or jdaling@wr.org.

September 30, 2014
Oath ceremony

For those of us born in the United States, citizenship is not something we think about on a regular basis. However, for the refugee or immigrant who has fled their country due to war, oppression or violence, the pursuit of citizenship is always at the forefront because it means having a country to call home again.

In 2009, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] began the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, awarding grants to immigrant-serving organizations to help them better assist permanent residents preparing for citizenship. In 2012, World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] submitted an application and was one of two Illinois organizations to receive this Federal grant.

“We were honored to receive this grant. It’s highly competitive---only 40 grants are given nationally each grant cycle,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Director of Education.

At the time of the announcement, the grant criteria did not allow for organizations to reapply when the grant cycle was over, which would end funding for Citizenship Classes, citizenship tutor training, and certain ILS services. However, in 2013, the guidelines were changed---allowing WRDA to reapply.

Last week, WRDA learned that the USCIS grant was renewed for another two years. The renewal means that the Immigrant Legal Services [ILS] department will be able to continue offering free services to those applying for citizenship, allocate time to more complex applications, and hire part time staff to assist with the administrative process. With regard to education, in addition to offering regular citizenship classes, the grant allows for clients with lower English skills to be served by our teachers who specialize in teaching those with little to no formal education.

Over the next two-year grant period, WRDA will be offering free citizenship classes in both DuPage and Kane counties. In addition to passing a civics test, the applicant must speak, read, and write English; therefore, the focus of each class is on helping the students gain the knowledge and tools needed to pass the naturalization interview. According to Andrea Gerhart, WRDA Education Projects Coordinator and citizenship teacher, the students come to class already internally motivated because obtaining citizenship is so important to them.

As a teacher, my goal is to equip the students in such a way that they walk into their interview with confidence,” said Gerhart.

Former citizenship student, Sara Gomez, believes that without World Relief classes, she would not have been as prepared for her interview.

“I could have memorized the questions on my own, but I wanted to become a citizen from the inside and outside,” said Gomez.

Motivated by her two children who are citizens by birth, Gomez never missed a class because she wanted to learn all that she could about U.S. history.

“I wanted to understand how freedom was achieved and how women got the right to vote in the U.S.,” said Gomez.

Furthermore, without the commitment of attending a class, Gomez says that she may have not put aside the time every week to study.

Currently, Sara’s mother is starting the application process towards U.S. citizenship and Sara is urging her to enroll World Relief classes. Citizenship classes will begin again in October in Wheaton. For more information on these classes, contact the DuPage office at (630) 462-7660.

To review the steps to citizenship, visit www.worldreliefdupageaurora.org/citizenship-information. Or if you would like to learn about becoming a Citizenship Tutor, helping students who require help outside of class time, contact Jamie Daling, WRDA Volunteer Manager, at jdaling@wr.org or 630-462-7566 x 1046.


September 22, 2014

The New Year is a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future.   At World Relief, our past includes a long history of meeting humanitarian needs and serving the world’s most vulnerable. Around the globe, World Relief has faithfully served people affected by war, poverty and disaster.

This year, World Relief will honor the past and look towards the future in celebration of 35 years of refugee resettlement services in California, Georgia, Illinois and Washington--- and 70 years since World Relief was founded!  As one of the original areas where refugee resettlement began in the U.S., we are doubly excited---celebrating 35 years of resettlement in DuPage and 15 years of service in Aurora!

“It is a testimony of God’s faithfulness and of the vision of these communities that World Relief has grown here and communities have been open and welcoming to refugees and immigrants,” said, Emily Gray, WRDA Executive Director.

World Relief has selected the image of a tree as the symbol for the anniversary year because of its similarity to the experience of immigrants and the World Relief local ministry.  Immigrants have all been separated from their original roots and seek roots in a new place.  And through the support of churches and volunteers, the roots grow deeper and stronger over time.    Eventually, the immigrant becomes firmly planted—learning English, gaining new job skills and investing in the growth of their community.  While some hardships are experienced along the way, similar to a sturdy tree, the immigrant is resilient and their limbs grow strong---producing much fruit.

Throughout 2014, we will observe the anniversary each month here in the newsletter with an article on our history and announcements of special anniversary opportunities.  In addition, we will weave the celebration into our regular yearly events such as Refugee & Immigrant Sunday and our annual Benefit Dinner; however, our big celebration will take place in conjunction with our annual World Refugee Day Picnics. We ask that you reserve the weekend of June 20 for WRDA celebrations, which will bring together both former and current immigrant clients, volunteers, community partners and employees.

In 1979, the founders of World Relief’s ministry among refugees, Grady and Evelyn Mangham, cast a vision of hope.  And by partnering with those willing to stand and welcome the stranger---many lives have been transformed over the years.  While the mission of World Relief has evolved, it has never wavered from the goal of empowering the local Church to serve the most vulnerable, and to see refugees, immigrants and members of their communities become fully-functioning, integrated participants in society.

Today, WRDA is a grounded organization with many dedicated volunteers, donors and community and church partners.  Over the coming year, together we will celebrate God’s faithfulness and all of the new beginnings that have been planted by WRDA and your service to the foreign-born.

September 22, 2014

A Donor’s Point of View

Bruce Barton became a World Relief donor after working on The Life Application Study Bible.  After five years of working on the Bible, Bruce and his wife, Mitzie, made the decision to donate a portion of their total giving---one third to their church, one third to evangelism, and one third to the poor.  At the same time, Bruce was working with Youth for Christ in Carol Stream---across the street the World Relief offices.  Approximately 25 years later, the Barton’s are still faithful World Relief supporters.

“As a donor, I think we are supposed to be responsible about our giving and I feel good about giving to World Relief,” said Barton.

Barton believes that financial giving is not primarily an emotional response. While he enjoys hearing success stories about refugees getting a good job, earning citizenship, or starting a small business, those stories are not a means-to-an-end. Instead, Barton views these stories as a conformation that World Relief is doing a good job with the resources entrusted to them.

“For me, it is like watching a magician.  After the first three tricks, you just start to trust the results--- and everything World Relief does backs up their promises with quality,” said Barton.

When asked about his involvement as a World Relief donor, Barton relates his commitment to the feeding of the 5,000, which is found in all four Gospels. He believes the Bible mandates that we proclaim God’s word by showing His love and concern for others.

“Jesus trained his disciples and told them to feed the people, which says to me that we too are called to serve and give physical help to others.  Or in other words, continue to feed WRDA---the conduit that serves refugees,” said Barton.

Finally, when asked what he would say to a potential WRDA donor, Barton responded, “If you are moved to give to refugees then World Relief is the best place---you can count on them to handle your money well.”

 WRDA History

Djoua Xiong came to the U.S. as a Hmong refugee from Laos to escape violence and start over in a safe place; however, God had a very specific mission for Djou.

During the mid-1970’s Djoua and his family were among the Hmong people seeking political alyssum.  Upon arrival in Wheaton, his first job was as a dish washer at Wheaton College and then in the shipping department at Tyndale Publishers.  Djoua adjusted to the culture and language quickly, and as a result he became a leader and advocate in the Hmong community.

Djoua was in the U.S. for a short time when he was recruited by Catholic Charities to serve as a case manager and help resettle other refugees arriving from Southeast Asia. In 1980, Djoua left Catholic Charities and accepted a position with World Relief to serve refugees being resettled throughout the Midwest.  But as his family grew, Djoua wanted to be at home more; therefore, he approached World Relief with the idea of opening an office in DuPage County.  His request was granted and he became the first official resettlement director for World Relief DuPage.

The DuPage office opened in 1982 with one case manager and a secretary, and together they resettled 100 refugees the first year.  During his tenure as director, with the help of volunteers, Djoua and his staff resettled thousands of refugees, from approximately 20 different countries.  “I would go to churches to speak and people were very sensitive to the refugees’ needs and responded,” said Djoua.

According to Djoua, during the early years churches and families would host newly arriving refugees in their homes, enroll the children in school, and run the ESL classes.  When Djoua left World Relief in 2000 to serve as president and CEO of Overseas Tribal Service, Inc., the DuPage office had both a strong volunteer and Church network---and nearly 50 employees!

Some of Djoua’s accomplishments as director include: establishing local refugee churches, a summer youth program, an on-site counseling center, a senior adult program, a community garden, and a program for refugee women to sell their handmade goods.

Today, Djoua continues in his advocacy work by helping to create access for missionaries to serve the tribal people of Southeast Asia.

 Update: Director’s Reflections

One of the benefits of looking back at the history of WRDA is seeing God’s faithfulness.  Over the years, God has shown through as He used people like Djoua – transforming them from refugees into faithful servants who serve and advocate for others.  His faithfulness has shown through people like Bruce and Mitzi, who have both lent their talents and been faithful financial supporters.

Recent events have led us at WRDA to realize how very dependent we are on God and His faithfulness through his people.  Last month in this newsletter, we shared concerns about public funding that was originally designated for refugees is now being used to meet the desperate needs of unaccompanied children entering the U.S.  Congress did not take action before its recess, so funding cuts to several of our refugee programs have gone into effect.   This re-allocation of funds represents the largest single drop in public funding WRDA has experienced in recent years.  As a result, we have scaled back several programs and we will face further reductions in October if Congress does not approve sufficient funding in the FY15 federal budget.

While this drop is dramatic, over the past several years public funding has been decreasing steadily---yet God has been faithful.  Even in the face of these cuts, we believe He will again be faithful through His people.  We believe that, as Bruce and Djou said so well, churches and individual donors are willing to step up to serve refugees and provide for the funds World Relief needs to continue to be a part of serving refugees, immigrants, and local churches.

I want to highlight two ways that you can be a part of helping us meet current challenges:

- On Friday, September 26 WRDA will host its annual benefit dinner at Piper’s Banquets.  This is always an important event for us, but never more than this year in light of these funding cuts.  It will be an inspiring evening of seeing how God has worked in the lives of immigrants and volunteers, as well as hearing a special message from Evelyn Mangham, one of the co-founders of World Relief’s Refugee Ministry 35 years ago.  You can help to fill the hall with supporters, friends, churches and sponsors.  Tickets are available now.  Click here for more information.

- We are 2/3 of the way toward our goal of raising $15,000 to meet a challenge grant of another $15,000 from the IDP Foundation for teaching Job Readiness ESL, which prepares refugees for jobs in the U.S.   The deadline for this match is fast approaching, so if you are willing to help us reach this goal, click here and choose “Help a Child or Adult Learn English” to designate your gift to this match.  Or, for more information, contact Bill Janus at bjanus@wr.org.

I ask you to pray for immigrants coming to our communities, to pray for the Church to rise up to welcome immigrants in the name of Jesus, and pray for us here at World Relief as we endeavor to do what God places before us each day.  I hope to see you in September!

Emily B. Gray, LCSW
Executive Director

June 25, 2014

When *Qing’s mom got the opportunity to leave China in 1994 and study in the United States she was faced with a difficult decision.  Her student visa did not allow her to work in the U.S., so she had to leave little Qing behind in China with family. At first Qing’s mother was fortunate, after completing her studies she was offered a job and granted a work visa.  As a result, five years later, Qing’s mom was able to reunite the family by bringing Qing to Chicago.

Qing did well in school and adjusted to the new culture quickly.  Although she was from a different country, her upbringing in the suburbs of Chicago was similar to her classmates----until she turned 12-years-old.  In 2001, Qing and her mother learned that their attorney missed the filing deadline to renew their visas---leaving them undocumented and without a remedy.  Without legal status, Qing’s life changed considerably.

As she got older, she was not able to attain milestones like her peers.  She could not get a driver’s license, work, or attend college.  Qing and her mom faced the possibility of deportation every day, even though life in the U.S. was virtually all Qing had ever known.

In May of 2003, the Illinois House Bill 60 opened-up new educational opportunities for undocumented students after high school.  As a result, Qing was able to attend and graduate from one of Chicago’s top universities; however, she was not able to pursue a career---until August 2012.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama issued a memo calling for pro-active deferral of deportation for certain young people who were brought to the U.S. as children.  The executive order, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, allows children who meet specific criteria to apply for a type of permission to be in the United States for two-years.  While it is not a path to permanent residency or citizenship, if the applicant is accepted, he or she can get a Social Security number, and Employment Authorization Card, and obtain a Driver’s License---depending on the state.

When Qing heard about the DACA program she wasted no time gathering all of the required records that she would need for her application.  And upon being accepted into the DACA program, she landed a job in her field.

“Now I have the ability to contribute to the country where I was raised and be self-sufficient, “said Qing.

Furthermore, DACA gave Qing the opportunity to apply for “Advance Parole” giving her permission to travel to China to visit aging family members, with an approval for re-admittance back into the U.S.  Because DACA is a two-year authorization, Qing is currently in the process of renewing her application, but hopes for the opportunity to become an American citizen one day.

Camilia Rubiano has a similar story.  She was just six-years-old when she was brought to the United States from Colombia.  According to Camilia, as a kid her legal status was never an issue because kids don’t talk about citizenship; they just treat each other the same.

During her sophomore year in high school, her mom heard about DACA and encouraged her daughter to look into it---this was the first time she realized that she was undocumented.

“This was the first time I understood why having a Social Security number mattered,” said Camilia.

Camilia applied and was accepted for DACA in 2012 and is also in the process of renewing her application.  With DACA she was able to obtain a driver’s license and a work permit.  Currently, she is studying towards a nursing degree at College of DuPage and working two jobs to support herself.   Although DACA has provided opportunities, Camilia would like to be a U.S. citizen and have a voice as a voter. And while she would like to visit Colombia one day, she considers the U.S. her home.

*For the protection of our client, we have changed her name to Qing for the purpose of retelling her story. 

Click here to learn more about DACA and the DACA renewal process.  To schedule an appointment with Immigrant Legal Services call 630-462-7660 for the Wheaton office and 630-264-3171 for the Aurora office.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Because DACA is an executive order and not a law; it can be revoked at any time.  According to the Evangelical Immigration Table, a coalition of evangelical leaders, the only true remedy is for immigration law to be reformed to meet the current realities of our country.   As a partner organization, World Relief believes that our national immigration laws have created a moral, economic and political crisis; therefore, our nation’s leaders need to work with the American people to pass immigration reform that: respects the God-given dignity of every person; protects the unity of the immediate family; respects the rule of law; guarantees secure national borders; ensures fairness to taxpayers; and establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.  Click here to learn more about the Evangelical Immigration Table and how you can take a stand for comprehensive immigration reform.

May 21, 2014

In today’s fluctuating economy, the ability to make sound financial decisions is crucial to one’s future.  And if you are a refugee starting over in a new country, stability is tightly connected to financial literacy.

At World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA], Asset Development programs are designed to help refugees move toward community integration through financial literacy and asset-building opportunities.  Through education, refugees receive the financial tools needed for success.

All newly arrived refugees take their first step towards financial freedom during their first six weeks here.  As a part to the ESL Job Class, Rebekah King, WRDA Asset Development Coordinator, walks the students through the process of budgeting and explains the difference between income and expenses.  Furthermore, Rebekah discusses the importance of having a bank account, enrolling in direct deposit, and using an ATM machine.

“Essentially, the lesson on budgeting shows the students that there is no extra money, at first, to spend on non-essential items or check cashing fees, “said Rebekah.

Once the client is established in a job and able to show a monthly margin of $400-$600 in their budget, additional opportunities for financial growth are available through partnerships with programs such as, Ways to Work.

Ways to Work is a national program administered locally by the Salvation Army Chicago Metropolitan Division. The program assists low-income families who have either no credit or bad credit obtain a low-interest car loan.  According to Jacqueline Lopez, Ways to Work Loan Coordinator, the loan is a credit building tool. The loan process includes a comprehensive application, a valid driver’s license, a credit check, proof of employment, and attendance at a financial education class.  Another component is a written personal statement to convey to the loan the committee what a car would mean to the family.

“World Relief helps us identify qualified participants.  We have never had a WRDA client make a late payment on their loan or be rejected for the program,” said Jacqueline.

As a nontraditional lender, Ways to Work is about seeing people succeed—and the success of the program speaks for itself.  According to Jacqueline, there have been applicants who were on public aid when they started, and by the time they finished paying off their car loan, they were off public aid and in a better job.

Recently, WRDA refugee client Ibrahim Alameir was able to purchase a vehicle through Ways to Work.

In August 2014, Ibrahim arrived with his wife and son from Iraq.   Due to the strong work with ethic Ibrahim learned from his father, he immediately went to work as a machinist to support his family.   Ibrahim was able to carpool to work, but without a car, he would ride his bike from Carol Stream to Wheaton for appointments—even in the winter.  Due to his hard work and lofty financial goals, by February 25, 2014, Ibrahim had earned a driver’s license,qualified for a car loan through Ways to Work, and purchased a used mini-van. Ibrahim’s next financial goal—- enroll in college and earn a license to practice dentistry again.


April 23, 2014

For a single mother, life inside a refugee camp is overwhelming. Survival depends on her ability to overcome obstacles and persevere in the face of adversity.

Due to political violence in Togo, Djigbodi Touleassi fled with her two young children to a refugee camp in Benin.  For approximately three years, they struggled to make it as a family; dealing with inadequate shelter and limited resources.  “I was so afraid for my daughter’s safety that I would carry her everywhere on my back so that she was close to me,” said Djigbodi.

While in the camp, Djigbodi met and married Atakora Agoro who provided a new sense of security; however, the celebration of their marriage was cut short when only she and her children were offered resettlement in the United States.   Because Djigbodi’s first marriage was considered “cultural”, she had no paperwork to confirm the divorce.  As a result, she arrived in Aurora, Illinois with just her children—Atakora had to stay behind.  Alone, Djigbodi faced the obstacles of learning a new language and engaging a different culture.  “I knew we were safe, but life in America was very different,” said Djigbodi.

With the help of World Relief’s Immigrant Legal Services, after a series of appeals, three years later Atakora was able to join his family.  Although together, the family’s struggle for a new life continued.  “Here, you need an education for money and for a future,” said Djigbodi.

Although educated professionals in their country, both Djigbodi and Atakora knew that in order to be successful in the U.S., they would have to start-over with their education.  Therefore, Djigbodi enrolled in WRDA’s Childcare Microenterprise Development program and received the training and certification needed to open an in-home childcare business, which allows her the flexibility to take classes at Waubonsee Community College.   Atakora, a math and physics teacher in Togo, works fulltime to support his family and goes to school fulltime.  In May, he will receive his associate’s degree and plans to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Northern Illinois University.

After establishing a routine and finding a balance between work and school, the couple’s next goal was to create stability for their children.  And when they learned about Emmanuel House and the opportunity to buy their own home, they applied for the program.

With the goal of helping the working-poor overcome poverty, Emmanuel House uses a Networked Saving Program to make it possible for a working family to save for a down payment on a home.  For 18 months, the family lives in housing owned by Emmanuel House and pays market-rate rent.  As resident of Emmanuel House, the family attends personal finance classes and their rent money is put into a personal savings account—to be used as a down payment on their first home.

Today both Djigbodi and Atakora are optimistic.  Their children are doing well in school and are involved in extra-curricular activities.   In the near future, Djigbodi plans to grow her childcare business and join Atakora at NIU as a nursing student.  And the entire family looks forward to their first home purchase.

March 24, 2014
Zataari Refugee Camp, Jordan


  • fear for your safety because your country is unstable
  • have witnessed cruel acts of violence and suffering
  • know that your only chance for survival is fleeing your home, your culture, and your country
  • are now warehoused in a camp amongst thousands of others struggling for survival
  • experience anger over the lack of resources in the camp, but with no legal status, you can’t work
  • hope camp life is temporary, but going home may not be an option and only 1% get resettled
  • are anxious because your future is unknown


You – are a refugee

At WRDA we are fortunate to have an on-site counseling center to help meet the emotional needs of the refugees we serve. Celebrating 15 years of service in June, the WRDA Counseling Center is comprised of four mental health professionals and two trained group facilitators who care for clients through a variety of modalities: individual and family therapy, adjustment groups, and community resources such as a visiting psychiatrist for those who require medication.  During 2013, the counseling center staff served approximately 176 severely traumatized refugees and over 300 individuals through adjustment groups.

According to Liliana Popovic, Counseling Center Director, no matter the circumstances, resettlement is always challenging because the process requires refugees to “move-on” and adjust to their new surroundings quickly.  “Our job as counselors is to help normalize the process as much as possible,” said Popovic.

Due to the difficulties refugees face upon arrival, such as learning a new language and acquiring job skills, stress and anxiety are high amongst the population.  Therefore, refugees are assessed upon arrival and a treatment plan is recommended.  Those who present with severe mental health issues are matched with a counselor, while others are connected to a support group.

When it comes to treatment, the main obstacle our counselors face is that western practices of therapy are not effective when working with people from different cultures.  For that reason, after learning about their background, the counselor helps the client regulate their emotions by reduplicating a task or an experience from their country of origin; for example, sewing, gardening or music.   By associating the client’s feelings to something that was a part of their daily life, the refugee gains a new confidence and hope.

Another tool that the Counseling Center utilizes is the adjustment group.  Varying in size and duration, the groups give clients the opportunity to find affinity, become more self-aware, and learn new coping skills.  These groups help to normalize difficult experiences and provide support and strength through sharing.

Overall, the main goal of the WRDA Counseling Center is to provide care during the adjustment period— helping the client plant the deep roots of stability.   “What we do has an impact on the resettlement process, both here at WRDA and organization wide,” said Popovic.

With regards to the next 15 years, the Counseling Center team hopes that treating refugees will become more mainstream in the mental health field.  Click here to learn more about the WRDA Counseling Center.

The Most Traumatized Population on Earth

According to Dr. Issam Smeir, WRDA Senior Mental Health Counselor, refugees are the most traumatized population on earth.  In fact, he estimates that approximately 90% suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Originally from Jordan, Dr. Smeir came to the U.S. approximately 12 years ago to earn a doctorate in psychology. At the same time, he joined the Counseling Center staff at World Relief.  As one of the few Arab-speaking experts in the field of Narrative Exposure Therapy [NET], a treatment for survivors of multiple traumas, Dr. Smeir has a passion for training counselors in the Middle East and Africa on ways to effectively treat victims of trauma—especially refugees.

Dr. Smeir teaches counselors techniques exclusive to helping refugees process their trauma and understand what is happening to their bodies, minds and psyches. He acknowledges that trusting others is difficult for refugees because their hearts have hardened over the years.

While refugees living in camps receive housing, water, and food—professional help to deal with emotional pain is scarce. Syrian refugees without financial resources end-up in a camp, where the violence and trauma continues. With the UNHCR reporting over two million Syrian refugees, in 2013 Dr. Smeir traveled to his home country to train local metal health works serving inside the camps.

Dr. Smeir is an advocate for early intervention because only 1% of the world’s refugees get resettled to another country. As a result, in 2014 he will once again return to Jordan to provide further training for local counselors.

If you would like to learn how you can pray for the crisis in Syria and Syrian refugees, click here.




February 18, 2014

The definition of mercy is love in action—taking the empathy we feel internally and turning it into an external action. At World Relief DuPage/Aurora, we witness acts of mercy daily from those who have a compassion for the vulnerable and seek to love in tangible ways; for example, through a high school project, a church team or a special birthday party.

Love is…The Hundred Dollar Project
In order to participate in her youth group’s summer mission trip to Rwanda, Glenbard West sophomore Claire Morawski, had to answer the question: What have you done/given to your community? Familiar with the struggles refugees face, Claire suggested to her Hundred Dollar Project team that they raise funds for local refugees.

The Hundred Dollar Project is a club at Glenbard West High School that provides students with the opportunity to learn about local philanthropic organizations, while building entrepreneurial skills.  After submitting a proposal, the club loans each team $100 to help put their plan into action.

Claire’s team consisted of 10 sophomore girls who met weekly with the club sponsor, Mrs. Denney, and club board members for feedback and support.  The team organized and sold tickets to a holiday movie night at the Boat House in Glen Ellyn entitled, “Triple Play”—because they planned to show three holiday movies.    In addition to selling tickets to the event, the girls obtained snack sponsors, gathered raffle prizes, and designed a commemorative t-shirt.  Approximately 110 people attended “Triple Play” and over $1,500 was raised for WRDA.

According to the girls, The Hundred Dollar Project taught them about team work and business planning; however, the biggest lesson was learning about refugees and their specific needs.

Love is…a Good Neighbor Kit
When presented with the needs of newly arriving refugees in Aurora, small groups at Christ Community Church in St. Charles took action. 

For approximately eight years, Vicky and Damon Carlson have led a small group Bible study for couples.  Over the years, the group has looked for ways to serve together and the opportunity to collect Good Neighbor Kit items for refugees was a perfect fit.

“At first, when the list of items was presented, it was a bit overwhelming, but once we split the list amongst the group it seemed doable,” said Vicky Carlson.

In fact, in two days the group had collected nearly all of the needed items for a Good Neighbor Kit—just in time for a refugee family arriving from Iraq.  “It felt so good to be able to do something to help; we wanted to do more for the family,” said Vicky.

Another group that got involved with collecting items is a weekly prayer group for moms with young children hosted by Brianna Saxer.   A couple of weeks before Christmas 2013, she saw a Facebook post from James Pomeroy, WRA Volunteer Coordinator, asking for Good Neighbor Kit [GNK] items.  Brianna brought the idea of collecting GNK items to the group and the women embraced the project.  As result, the list of needed items was divided amongst the group members and delivered to Brianna’s house.

In addition, the moms were able to involve their kids and make it an object lesson on giving, “Our kids had a blast helping us shop for the items, “said Brianna.   But more importantly, their kids’ showed tremendous empathy for those they were serving.  For example, Brianna’s son wanted to know more about the family and why they had to leave their country, and another boy still asks his mom if she thinks the family is warm enough because he  picked-out their blankets.

In the future, the group hopes to provide more GNK items.  “It is a tangible way to invest and serve others,” said Brianna.

Love is…a Birthday Party

As a way to focus on the celebration, Leah Anderson has made “no-gift birthday parties” the norm for her family.

A couple of weeks before her daughter Anneka’s seventh birthday in November, Leah learned about WRDA’s need for household items for newly arriving refugees.  As a result, she and her daughter agreed that this year, instead of bringing birthday presents to her party, Anneka would ask her friends to bring a household item to donate.

Leah originally came up with the “no gift” concept because gifts for children’s birthday parties can start to add up—and not every family has the resources.  “This way no one feels bad”, said Leah.  And by giving to others, she has the opportunity to give her kids a sense of the world outside of Wheaton and teach them the importance of giving to others.