First United Presbyterian Church

World Refugee Day is June 20

by Rebecca Haden


June 20 is World Refugee Day. At FUPC, we support Canopy NWA, an organization that provides assistance for refugees living in Northwest Arkansas. Canopy invites us all to wear blue on World Refugee Day and to join in local activities observing this awareness-driving day.

What’s a refugee?

Refugees are immigrants, but with special circumstances. My father came from France to the United States and my son-in-law came from Germany; both are immigrants. My husband came from Laos as a refugee. My father and son-in-law were educated in the United States. They had friends and family here. They traveled back and forth to Europe for years and decided to settle in the United States. They spoke English comfortably and worked in jobs that transferred easily to America. This is a common pattern for immigrants to the United States.

Refugees are forced to leave their home countries and may have little choice in where they end up. Most have to leave home because their lives are in danger. My husband lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for years, sheltering in cardboard boxes with many other people who escaped the wars in Laos, waiting for a chance to find a safe place to live. Some members of his family were sent to France, some to Canada, some to the United States. They didn’t speak English, they didn’t know anything about the place they would be living in, and they did not have easily transferable skills.

The refugee family FUPC sponsored in 2022 came from Guatemala. The father and three of the children came to live in Springdale, while the mother and one more child had to stay in Guatemala. The family didn’t speak English, they didn’t know how to drive, and they were not accustomed to our weather or customs.

Under these circumstances, refugees need some support when they reach our shores.

Canopy NWA

Canopy NWA is a local organization that provides that support. Families are provided with resettlement help and financial assistance for 90 days while they learn their way around, improve their English, and establish themselves in jobs or schooling.

Each family is welcomed by a team of volunteers who help with daily needs like transportation, banking, food shopping, learning how to use American appliances, getting library cards, and adjusting to life in Northwest Arkansas. The team members become friends and helpers for the families as they settle into their new lives.

Canopy NWA trains the teams and supports the families in various ways through their first five years in  Northwest Arkansas. At the end of this time, the refugees are functioning members of our community here.

World Refugee Day is a good time to learn more about the refugees in Northwest Arkansas and to consider prayerfully how you might like to support the work of Canopy NWA.

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