For over 6 years, Claudia has been volunteering with World Relief in the Tri-Cities area in Washington. She mentors refugees from Burma, Columbia and Somalia. Many of the younger refugees who have lost their own mothers or may never see them again know call her “Mama Claudia.”Here, Claudia shares why she has chosen to stand with refugees:
“I had been praying about a way to volunteer that would be meaningful. One night, at a church meeting, a World Relief staff person stood up to speak about refugees. As soon as she stood up, I knew that’s what I was supposed to do. I didn’t really have many cross-cultural experiences to draw from, other than a time in the 1970’s when I was part of a church that helped host a Vietnamese family or when I worked with a literacy project in California. But I’ve always been one to look out for the less-fortunate. Even in high school, I remember that I always seemed to have more than my friends did and I wanted to give to them.
Many refugees have gone through so much tragedy and have suffered a lot of trauma just to get here. When they tell you the story of how their government stole their land and killed their family or when they tell you how they used to live, cooking, cleaning and sleeping all in a shack that is the size of my dining room, it reminds me again how fortunate I am. I am blessed with more than I need.
I’ve learned a lot from the refugees, about myself and about how our cultures are so different. One time recently, I was upset at a landlord about a situation in a young Burmese couple’s apartment, and I wanted to march over to that office and get it resolved. My Burmese friend, who is much more gentle and kind than I, stopped me and said, “no, I’ll take care of it. It’s ok. I can do it.”
Once I mentioned to my Somali friends that I had a headache, and after that, each Somali kept taking turns checking on me to see if I was ok. I’m accepted by them, and they appreciate me and the help I can give them. They often confide in me about problems or questions they have about American culture. I’ve had many very personal conversations with them, and they sometimes seem much more open than we are in our culture.
It’s so funny to go out in public and have these Somali people call me their mama. When I help them with appointments, the receptionist will ask what my relationship is to the group of Somalis standing there with me. We stop, look at each other, and just smile. I usually end up saying, ‘well, I’m their American mother.’ No one really asks questions after that.”