Parish People and Places
This week’s enews is written by Paul Van Allen, our minister of discipleship and mission. Paul had the opportunity to interview Sharon Hampton this week about her ministry to refugee women in Austin. Last Fall, when we did a survey of our community’s interests and desires for service to your city, engagement with refugees was among the top choices. The work that Sharon is involved in is wonderful and we’re excited that she will join us for the pancake breakfast this Saturday.
As we desire to serve our city and participate in what God is doing, our hope is that through this interview and engagement with Sharon we will be stimulated to both love and good deeds. Read the transcript of the interview, below.
Paul: Sharon, thanks so much for taking time to talk to me about what women are doing with refugees here in Austin. As you know, we are a new church in Northeast Austin and we have a desire to be more engaged with what is going on in the city and in the world and there is also an awareness that the world is coming to the city. How did you find yourself building relationships with refugees?
Sharon: At first, honestly, I don’t think I had thought at all about refugees and I didn’t even know we had refugees in our city. So we heard about a group that was reaching out at the Capitol Village Apartments (near 290 and Berkman) and started meeting Iraqi refugees there and we started meeting everybody. We started helping pick up and deliver furniture for them and all kinds of things to meet and befriend them.
Paul: So tell me: what are some challenges that refugees face when they try to immigrate to a city like Austin?
Sharon: Refugees have really high expectations of what life is going to be like when they move here but then they find out, “Wow, I don’t have much money. I need to find a job. I need to try to figure out how to put my kids in school. I basically arrived here with the clothes on my back.” So some of them become really discouraged. The programs give them a certain amount of money to live on for 3-6 months, but then after that time they are out there on their own.
Paul: So, obviously there is the issue of language which impacts every area of their life here. Tell us a little bit about what you guys are doing and specifically what women across Austin are doing with you?
Sharon: The women become really isolated and there is no way for them to get out and learn English. Women have come from everywhere around Austin to help teach. And as soon as they get into it and shadow a teacher to see what it is like they realized, “I can do this!” The women became not only teachers but also advocates. This is not that hard. You can do this. Now we have close to 30 women who have been teaching in one capacity or another and about 20 refugee women.
Paul: Tell me specifically if a woman from COTC wants to be involved what kind of commitment are we looking at?
Sharon: It’s just a commitment to one hour a week because that’s about how long a class will last. Every woman we are teaching has preschoolers at home. There are all kinds of classes where you could teach in a classroom setting or in a church but with these women, what’s sort of unique is that we go to their homes to do this.
Paul: So, there is a specific opportunity there around the Capitol Village area?
Sharon: Right, that’s where we started out but that place was a really crummy place. Lots of rats and roaches and poorly manages. A lot of people have moved to other places with subsidized housing but there are a couple of ladies we are in relationship with right now in that area. Between the two of these ladies I think they have eight kids. These two ladies are really diligent working on their homework and practicing their letters. They really love it. One day, they got to where they could read a simple kids book and they were so excited that they told Amy, “We are so excited we have to give you a gift.” And so they did Henna on her hands. They really love Amy. I become like their mother and the younger women become like their sisters.
Paul: There is room to get involved there with these ladies?
Sharon: Yes. I always say you won’t be going by yourself. We provide the curriculum and supplies. We can train you. You watch for a while at first. Some women who don’t want to teach can help with the kids. We need people to pray. There is a lot of freedom in what we do. A lot of the women who were under the Taliban have no education…like they’ve never held a pencil before. So a lot of times we start with pre-literacy and how to draw letters. Any mother would pick up on this very quickly because its what you are doing with your kids at home.