Living a Meaningful Life by “Welcoming the Stranger”
Pennswood Village has a magnificent culture of giving, and the residents continuously surprise the community with their charity and volunteer work. One incredibly passionate and dedicated resident is Marguerite Chandler. A former Peace Corp member, who was active in her community throughout her working life, has dedicated her retirement to helping others full-time. In this pursuit of helping others, Marguerite has recently helped relocate a young Syrian refugee family to the Bucks County area.
Having wanted to help with the Syrian refugee crisis and understanding how frustrating, disorienting and exhausting it is to live in another country, Marguerite felt called to help this family. Knowing very little about how to relocate a refugee family in the United States, Marguerite learned quickly from those who had experience doing this work, and was joined by a group of others from all different faiths and traditions.
“The experience of working with this family, who is so appreciative and eager to succeed, gives me an enormous sense of gratitude for the goodness of people and for what we might take for granted in this country,” Marguerite explains. “The world can seem dark and unforgiving, but when you see this situation and how people came together to do wonderful things in only a short amount of time, it’s amazing. It’s those kinds of things that make life meaningful.”
In reflection of the Thanksgiving holiday, Marguerite is thankful to live at Pennswood Village, a community that embraces helping others, and where everyday chores are taken care of, so she can fully commit herself to social justice and peace building.
Below is Marguerite’s perspective on helping this young Syrian refugee family:
WELCOMING THE STRANGER
Written by Marguerite Chandler
Almost every faith group has an admonition to “welcome the stranger.”
The early Pilgrims survived because the Wampanoag tribe accepted them and gave them food through the winter and taught them how to catch eel and grow corn during the summer. The first Thanksgiving in 1621 was celebrated by 23 survivors of the Mayflower joined by 90 Wampanoag Native Americans for three days of feasting after a successful harvest.
About six months ago, a group of us in the Lower Bucks area began to plan to identify a Syrian Muslim family that we could support to become successful Americans right here in Bucks County. Happily, volunteers from nine other faith communities (synagogues, churches, Quaker meetings, and a mosque) agreed to work together on this goal.
A week ago a young Syrian Muslim family arrived. Moustafa, the father, and Amal, the mother, are 21 and 20 years old. Their two daughters, Yusra and Rasha, are 3 and 1. They were forced to flee their homes in Syria five years ago. They have been living in a refugee camp in Jordon for the last four years, where they married and had their children. Refugee vetting is the most stringent for any visitors to the USA, and they have been working for two years to get a visa. They do not have a high school diploma and do not speak English yet. The U.S. refugee resettlement agency support ends in 90 days, and their Refugee stipend of $925/person is spent almost immediately on housing, which is why a volunteer base of support for at least a year is essential to their success. Their plane fare was $1,000/person (we cannot repay this for them—they must repay this amount themselves, in small increments over time).
One day after their 18-hour journey, the entire family was required to spend a grueling day in Philadelphia, going from one agency to another, to complete their initial paperwork. Even with an Arabic interpreter, a representative from the mosque, and a volunteer nanny, this was a daunting proposition, especially with a 3 year old and a 1 year old. The challenge was great: leaving at 6:30am, driving in rush hour traffic, finding their way to several offices, finding parking, finding each other if they got separated, returning in rush hour traffic.
Pennswood Village generously provided a driver and a van. Mark, the driver, got the car seats installed, navigated the traffic into Philadelphia, found the places they needed to go, dropped them at the door, found a place to park the van, waited, and coordinating their arrival at the next place—all day long. Mark’s generosity and kindness made the day go smoothly and efficiently and they arrived home by 3pm.
This young family is already busy learning to speak English and eager to get English as a Second Language classes immediately. We have about 10 experienced ESL volunteers who will be working with them, as well as Welcoming The Stranger in Langhorne that provides ESL training, computer training, and socialization classes to orient them to the American culture. Although the mosque arranged initially for the apartment and over 100 volunteers donated furnishings and furniture, this family will need to be financially self-sufficient within 6 months! The father was immediately concerned about the cost of the apartment and is eager to get to work (another member of the mosque is providing him a minimum wage job to work in his 7-11 —a place he can walk to half a mile from his apartment). They are so hopeful, courageous, and determined not to lose this long-wished for opportunity!
So thanks to ALL the good people who have stepped up to help these refugees make America their new home, Mustafa & Amal (the mother and father) and their little daughters Yusra and Rasha are well on their way. And endless gratitude to Pennswood Village and Mark for making this first, very challenging, contact with American culture a positive one. If you would like to participate in any way, please contact me.
If you would like to get involved with this cause, you can contact Marguerite at 609-602-9306. If you would like to learn more about the services Pennswood Village provides to enable a meaningful retirement, give us a call today at 866-740-4977.