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Making a Difference in a New Land: How One International Student Supports Refugees

Christabel’s arrival in Washington was filled with surprises. First, in Spokane, she experienced snow for the first time, accompanied by freezing temperatures. Brrrr. Then, when she made it to Cheney, she was met with silence. Accustomed to the busy streets of her home in Accra, the capital of Ghana, this small town felt unusually quiet.

Moving from Ghana to Washington to go to school at Eastern Washington University, Christabel was expecting surprises.

Still, she felt the full weight of moving to a new region. In her snowy, cold, empty room Christabel thought, “Oh my.”

Due to the nature of her master’s program, Christabel had ample free time available during the day. God placed on her heart the desire to spend her time volunteering. She was determined to make a significant impact.

“She is disciplined. She is kind.”

“I believe I have some God-given talents. I believe God has given me some skills that would be useful for people – that will make life easier – that will make life better for someone. And so, I wanted to employ those gifts to help someone.”

Christabel discovered that a member of her church donated to World Relief. After asking about the nonprofit, the woman told Christabel that she should volunteer. It seemed to be a good fit, so Christabel applied. Soon, she found herself an essential member of the World Relief team.

Christabel teaches students in the Education Center

Teaching with an impact

At the Education Center, Christabel is kept busy teaching Basic Computer Skills on Tuesdays and filing paperwork. She patiently supports clients as they strengthen their technical skills. After acquiring basic computer skills, participants are incredibly proud of themselves.

“She is part of the team. She invests more hours than she has to invest,” said Morella Perez-Suels, the Manager of the Education Center. “She is disciplined. She is kind.”

The Education Center hosts several other classes and workshops such as English Conversation, Sewing and Entrepreneurship and Driving Courses. Christabel is a witness to the joy and satisfaction refugees attain after completing these classes.

“Most of these clients have come through years of trauma, years of war, and all those things. You could see from their faces the pride and the joy they have to be able to achieve something for themselves.”

When she is not in the classroom, Christabel teaches new arrivals how to use the Spokane Transit and navigate Google Maps. These skills give refugees the freedom to travel to jobs, stores and other locations.

Christabel teaching Twi to Gonzaga students.

Show – Not tell

Christabel also helps with Refugee Simulations. If you have attended a simulation, you may have met Christabel. Refugee Simulations give the community a chance to follow a refugee family’s journey to America through three immersive stations. The stations are directed by actors. Christabel often plays the part of a doctor or language teacher.

The medical station seeks to capture the extensive medical process refugees must undergo. This station is often impactful for medical and nursing students who will inevitably encounter refugees in their future careers.

Acting as the language teacher, Christabel leads participants through an immersive crash course in Twi (pronounced chwee), a language that her family speaks within their household. There is no English interpretation during the entire session which can be disorienting for participants.

“Sometimes it’s really funny,” said Christabel. She often uses hand signals and props to communicate the meaning of each word. “It’s mostly funny because it’s a very new language to them.”

Participants are quick to pick up the language. Even more importantly, they leave the simulation with an appreciation for the refugee experience.

Christabel teaching Twi to Gonzaga students.

Planning for everybody. Planning for people.

At the age of 23, Christabel is currently working on her Masters in Urban and Regional Planning at Eastern Washington University. This degree focuses on designing cities that promote flourishing communities. This includes the placement of buildings, facilities, resources and neighborhoods.

Christabel describes it as “planning for everybody. Planning for vulnerable people, planning for refugees, planning for housing. Planning for people.”

From her time spent at World Relief, Christabel is better prepared to plan for housing, community and resources within urban areas that benefit those in vulnerable situations.

When she returns to Ghana, Christabel wants to continue serving communities in need of support. “I don’t know how many refugees we have in Ghana; however, I’m sure there are other vulnerable people like the disabled and single mothers.”

Looking at her time with World Relief, Christabel expressed that her heart has grown as well as her ability to manage her time.

“I want others to know that volunteering at a place like World Relief is more beneficial to you, yourself as a volunteer – in the sense that it just helps you be more attentive, be more caring. It helps you be able to appreciate the life of others. It helps you be able to use your gifts and use them well.

“This is a fulfilling place. This is a fulfilling job to do. So, you should give it a good consideration.”

Join Christabel in making an impact.

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