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Final Goodbye

This is the last post on the blog, at least for now. It has been almost a year since Emylee, Judith and I (Michaela) came to Brantford, Canada to continue Status:Welcomed that Idun, Catherine and Bethan started. Our goal was to take pictures and write stories of refugees and staff and volunteers of organizations that reach out to the displaced and welcome them in. We wrote this blog about our experience and journey over the three months that we were in Brantford and wanted to inspire and inform you on how to get engaged with refugees.

We will keep the website online and hope that it will be a great resource for you; to learn how to build relationship with refugees and asylum seekers, to participate in the 52 Challenges and embrace the displaced.

If you are looking for more on Status:Welcomed then check out our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Our hopes is that this project will live far beyond us.

Thank you so much for being a part of this!

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Finding a Match

This is part two of Suleiman´s story. Scroll down if you would like to read more.

My first visit to Lebanon was fifteen years ago. I was invited to have coffee with my former neighbors. I immediately noticed the woman whom served the coffee. She was a cute and pretty twenty-year-old girl. I asked my niece who she was.

She said, ’’It’s your host’s daughter, the one you liked teasing when you were younger!’’

I immediately liked her. After I talked to her dad about it, I took her out a few times. There was only one week left to get to know each other.

During this week, I asked her if she would marry me. We grew up in the same environment, the same mess. I knew her family and her neighbors. She experienced the same kind of life as me. That’s all I had to know about her. All the puzzle pieces that had value to me were there.

In my culture, we don’t date for months or years as we think that it’s odd. So we got engaged. A year later, after she got her Canadian visa, Honda and I got married in Athens. She is a very good woman! We have three daughters and a boy.

My wife is hosting a day care at our home. It´s a home for kids while their parents are at work. We want to give them a safe environment where they can adjust.

We try to have a big impact on the community that we are living in. Together, we cook meals for the homeless people in Brantford, every Sunday. We have been doing that for thirty-seven years now.

During the last years, we also helped to bring twelve refugee families to Canada through private sponsorship. We are working with the families and helping them with things like registering their children for school, bringing them from one place to another, translating, and helping them to adjust to life in Canada. Some of the families when they first arrived, we hosted in our home.

I’m very interested in politics! In the middle east, you can’t really say anything against the system or criticize it. It’s too dangerous. In the Western European world, you have freedom to speak. I enjoy this freedom and I am glad to live here.

This story was written with information based on interviews.

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Growing Up in a Refugee Camp

My name is Suleiman and I am a Palestinian. I was born in 1945.

My family and I came to a refugee camp in Northern Lebanon when I was a child. At the beginning, we lived in tents, in the middle of the winter. Later, the United Nations started to build some shacks.

The camp was between the cold river and the Mediterranean Sea. I grew up in this camp from 1948 until 1969. With the support of the UN, I could go to high school in the city. This was a better opportunity for me. I used to play basketball during my lunch breaks. One day, my professor, David, stopped and talked to me, ‘’I see you like sports, do you want to do some volunteer work at the YMCA in Tripolis?’’

I said “yes.”

So I started to teach kids ten-twelve years old how to swim when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old.

Later David said,’’I am going to send you to the West Bank to help and build basketball courts in refugee camps’’

We were groups of young people and every trip took an average of three weeks. I did the work camps for four years.

After high school was over, I started to study Telecommunication in Southern Lebanon. I stopped volunteering for the YMCA and joined the local basketball team.

After I graduated, I moved back north and visited David. He sent me to one more mission for eighteen days. Local high schoolers joined us and together we built more basketball courts. The last time that I volunteered for them was in 1968.

One day I got the chance to get a visa to go to Canada. Before I could get a visa, I was asked if I knew anyone in Canada. I had a pen-pal for six years in Canada. So I took a whole box of letters (exchanged between the two of us) emptied them into a garbage bag and took them to the embassy.

They asked me if the family would be willing to pick me up from the airport. The family agreed after I asked them in a letter.

I came to Canada during Christmas Eve in 1969. When I arrived, the snow was up to my knees. My pen-pal’s parents invited me to stay with them. They had seven daughters and two sons. I volunteered and stay with them, for a couple of months. The dad showed me how to milk a cow and drive a tractor. The Canadian Department sponsored me during this time.

That is one reason why I like to help people now.

This story was written with information based on interviews.

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Why Not?

I (Emylee)  had the privilege to volunteer at a youth organization called, Why Not? in Brantford. I was so encouraged to watch the consistent staff hang out, serve, listen and talk with the youth. Why Not? has an open space for teenagers to decompress from their stressful weeks through a meal and fun activities such as video games, board games, Just Dance, karaoke and chalk.

As I reflect, I find life is messy and hard. When we were born on this earth, we were never meant to be perfect. We are all humans, prone to make mistakes. And in the end, the mess allows us to just be us. We are perfect in our imperfection and God loves our messes.

You and I will never have the perfect friends, homes, families, vacations or jobs. But we can enjoy the little blessings of every day. We can find thankfulness in our cozy beds, water from the sink to wash dishes, and dinner on our tables.

Photocredit: Cat

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Lemonade Stand

Ethan is an eight years old boy who has a bright smile, brilliant mind and energetic spirit. He has juvenile arthritis but he doesn’t allow the illness to stop him from doing the things he loves. Last year, he raised $10,000 during a lemonade stand fundraiser event and $6,000, this year.

On the day of the event, Ethan greeted new customers with smiles and handed them cups of lemonade when they placed donations in the box. Volunteers sold raffle tickets for the silent auction of donated gift certificates and gift baskets. Firefighters, paramedics, and police officers toured children through their service vehicles. Children enjoyed face painting, sword fighting and jewelry making and met princesses, superheroes and a captain. Everyone was so thankful for lemonade to quench their thirst and friendly service.

Ethan and his family are positive, humble and compassionate people. They inspire others to follow their passions and to do the impossible. Through their example, they teach others how to use the resources available to them and to invite others into the process.

This one act which required coordination, perseverance and dedication, reaped the benefits for the children with juvenile arthritis. Their choice inspired me to dream and ask, how can one event, decision, and action impact others? We are able to help others with the small decisions that we make.

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The Process of a New Life

This is part two of this story. If you would like to read part one, scroll down.

The Colombian family sent in an application for Refugee Status in August 2013. Micah House helped them move into an apartment, in October, even though the application was denied.

Julio’s medical condition wasn’t getting any better and he wouldn’t be able to get proper medical care in Colombia. So, they made a Humanitarian and Compassionate request, in September 2014. The family had two very, organized binders thanks to Mary’s education in Commercial Accounting. The binders had several hundred pages which explained the reasons why they couldn’t go back to Columbia, Julio’s critical medical condition and their now integrated lives. They waited over a year to hear back for results.

Not long before we met the family though they got great news. Their Humanitarian and Compassionate request was accepted which means they can stay in Canada. Now they are able to work towards their dreams, to pursue higher education which is especially important for the future of their daughters. Alana really likes science. Her dream is to study biology at the University when she finishes school. Her mother, Mary would also like to continue her education in accounting. She hopes to improve her English though before she starts. In order to accomplish her goal, she takes English classes, Monday through Friday. The classes are challenging as they are only taught in English and she is the only Spanish speaker.

Other than education and health care, the family really loves their new home in Canada. They like the snow, friendly people, and peaceful life. Mary loves taking photos, as we do. She showed us some beautiful ones she took of her daughter Alana.

We really enjoyed getting to know this lovely family who made us feel welcomed each time that we visited them. Mary has the same love of photography, as we do. She showed us some beautiful ones she took of her daughter Alana. We are so happy that they are able to call Canada their home. We wish them all the best.

This story was written with information based on interviews. Names were also changed for safety reasons.

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Journey with a Successful End

This is the story of a family we met from Colombia.

Leaving a life behind

Mary, Julio and their two daughters, Alana whom is sixteen years old and Sara whom is eleven years old left Columbia due to an ongoing armed conflict between the FARC and the government, since 1964. The armed militants have lived in the jungle and operated through organized crime such as kidnapping, drug dealing and extortion.. It’s almost impossible as a citizen, not to be affected by it. Sadly, many people have lost family members. The Colombian people though just long for a life of peace!

The family decided to leave Colombia and move to the United States of America, in 2012. Later, they traveled to Canada in July of 2013 where they lived in Micah House for three months. Micah House is a residence for refugees who first arrive to Canada. It was summer which made it easier for them to adjust to the colder climate as their hometown is always warm and they have never seen snow before. The daughters attended school in the fall of that year. The new language was a challenge but the two girls learned quickly in school.

“We’re like sponges, we soak up everything!’’ Alana said.  

They were unable to attain healthcare though in the beginning. The doctors found out that Julio was suffering from liver disease and discussed the possibility of a liver transplant in 2013. The health care system changed during their process of applying for Refugee Status. Julio almost died as the liver worsened. It was especially difficult to get any medical care without permanent residency as many doctors didn’t want to deal with the refugees, at this time as no one knew who was going to pay for health services and medications.

After they asked the first doctor whom helped them, how they could pay him for his services, he replied, “It’s important that you get better first. Don’t worry about the payment!’’

The family was extremely thankful. Challenges though with residency and healthcare continued.

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What Can I Do?

Whenever I feel overwhelmed with the whole refugee situation in my country and around the world, it helps me to just meet one person and let them tell me about their life.

Whether it´s what the person went through or just the simple steps of success, hopes and dreams. They can be so close to the dreams we all have. It leaves me touched, impressed and thankful. Suddenly I don't see the overwhelming political situation. It´s not my job to make political decisions anyways, but to embrace the person. I see someone that I could be. Like the young family who struggles to get papers to go to the doctor for their baby or the family father who is so thankful to be one of the lucky ones who brought his whole family to a safe country without leaving someone behind or  the young woman who is not a child anymore but who sometimes needs advice about life from a mum because her own mum is far away. These are not just examples, these people actually exist. I met every single one of them and many more. An overwhelming political situation can look so different when you take the first step and meet one person!

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"I love Canada, my new home, my country."

Mamdouh, his wife Suad, and their four kids, Tabrk, Ali, Asll and Yossef, fled from Baghdad, Iraq, thirteen years ago. The family was forced to live in a Syrian refugee camp for six years, before the violence broke out in 2011.

Mamdouh and Suad with three hundred other refugees lacked health care and froze sometimes in the winter. They lost their one week old baby due to the conditions. Mamdouh knew if he wanted to keep his family healthy he needed to do something. So he applied to leave the refugee camp to move to a safer place.

In 2001, a group of Canadian Mennonites invited the family to Canada. When they arrived, the Mennonites picked the family up from the airport, provided a house for them, and helped him find a job at a supermarket.

Mamdouh lost his job though after one year due to the store shutting down permanently. The loss didn’t deter him from following his passions and dreams. When someone asked to partner and start a business with him, he took the opportunity and bought his old workplace. His twenty five years of work experience as a baker and cook brought success. He painted the restaurant purple and furnished it with white couches to lounge on and black tables and chairs to eat Baklava and Falafels from.

“Mamdouh is a good and friendly man. He worked so hard. The best part…is that he had local support. We come every other week, fill a few cars and eat here to support him,” his close friend and mentor said.

Living in Canada means a lot to Mamdouh. For the first time in his life, he has an ID card which means he can apply for jobs, bank accounts and health cards. He has freedom to go places and to create a safe environment for his family.

“Canada is my country now, my home, my life. This country gave a future to my family. Now we are safe! My kids go to school, and are happy,” Mamdouh exclaimed.

The family were blessed to have people who wanted to make a difference, to take action, and to step out.

Mamdouh, 39, stands in The Oasis, the Halal Restaurant, full of excitement. He has come a long way and accomplished a lot.    

Mamdouh, 39, stands in The Oasis, the Halal Restaurant, full of excitement. He has come a long way and accomplished a lot.    

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Studio Photography

Paul Smith, Owner and Photographer at Photohouse Studio showed us (Judith, Michaela and I) how to shoot studio photography last May. He showed us how to move the lights and reflector to enhance people’s features and make them feel beautiful. His excitement made learning enjoyable.

Some of the steps that we learned to appreciate:

  1. Place the trigger on your camera (the trigger will make the studio lights go off).

  2. Turn on the lights

  3. Change the power of the lights using the up and down arrows

  4. Test the power of the light with the lighting meter placed in front of the light

  5. Change settings on the camera to align with the lighting meter

  6. Ask the model to sit or stand depending on your preference

  7. Test the camera settings by taking photographs of the model

  8. Choose your words carefully when changing your settings. You would not want to upset your model.

  9. Move the reflector as needed to fill the light in on the subject matter’s face/body.

  10. As a beginner write down or photograph your studio set up and camera settings. This will help in the future when you want to photograph the same look.

  11. Practice, practice and practice.

  12. Most importantly, have fun, be inspired and love your job! Don’t stress but play with the lighting set ups and find the best fit for you.

We would like to share our individual experiences with you.

Emylee’s Experience:

I loved taking charge of the lighting situation. I asked the model to get ready while I set up the studio equipment. When I had the trigger on my camera, lighting set up, and camera settings tested, I began to photograph. The lighting was not perfect the first, second or third time but I found the challenge thrilling. I would have to problem solve my way through the situation.

I moved from light to light changing the direction of light. Being my first time, Jesse, my model (our next door roommate) was so gracious and understanding. She changed positions and props with pure happiness.

In the end, I loved the photographs that I took. Jesse had expressions of seriousness as she read a book, bliss as she stood and held her umbrella straight above her head, and curiosity when she sat in a pink chair with an old camera in hand. I knew that they weren’t perfect but they were mine to share with her and others,  if she so chose to.

Judith’s Experience

For me, to photograph in a studio was a really good experience. Before I only took pictures in natural light which I really liked. It was difficult though to have studio lights which would create such an unnatural light,  if I set them up wrong. But on the other hand, I could also create whatever I wanted and am not dependent on the time of day.

I definitely need more time to not only see if a scenario looks good or not and to also know why. I think that I  will keep practicing studio photography.

Michaela’s  Experience

I found the studio photography quite challenging but fun. Questions kept going through my mind: Where do I put all the lights to make the model look pleasing? Where should the model stand? How can I make it as creative as possible without having the help of nature surrounding?

I am very thankful for the experience and the chance to practice studio lighting. Even with all the challenges, if I had to set all the lights up again then I would because I had so much fun doing it. Especially because Judith has been the most patient and fun model to work with!

 

 

 

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Giving to the Refugees

Closet Couture Boutique sells beautiful items tax-free at great prices, with all proceeds after overhead costs going back to Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services. It opened in 2013, to maximize on the many donations received at the shelter.

Shar Schmidt, the Store Manager, heard from a volunteer at CORE Refugee Sponsorship that refugees had arrived in Paris and were in need of clothing. She collected two bags of clothes and wrote personal welcome letters and placed punch cards and business cards inside.

Schmidt has helped refugees in the past. She collected twenty-five baby carriers for Carry the Future; an organization who gives them to Syrian refugee families whom are actively fleeing their country, to make their journey easier. 

To persevere in all circumstances and to better the world, she came up with this mantra: "I am powerful. I have choices. And I am free."

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Closet Couture Boutique

Closet Couture Boutique opened its doors on July 29, 2013 through a grant from the Trillium Foundation. The store is unique, as high-end items are donated to Nova Vita which is a shelter for women who are fleeing domestic violence situations or homelessness. All other merchandise that doesn’t fit the needs of Nova Vita and Closet Couture Boutique are shared with many other community resources. 

When the donated items arrive at the boutique, volunteers and employees inventory, steam, tag and display one-hundred to three-hundred pieces of clothing, each week. The cost of the clothing reflects the brand name but remains low, because part of the store's mandate is to make great fashion accessible to everyone. All proceeds, after the over-head cost of the boutique, goes to Nova Vita's shelter and many outreach programs.

Shar Schmidt has been the store manager of Closet Couture Boutique since February 2015. She started in the fall of 2013 as a volunteer and was later hired in March of 2014, as part-time staff. Her current responsibilities are to hire and train staff, manage inventory and customer service.  

“I wish I had this job all my life,” says Schmidt.

Her previous job experience has typically been retail management; selling everything from children's clothing and shoes, pets and related items such as high-end jewellery and giftware. 

Schmidt loves the customers and the professionals she gets to work with.

“Because of who we are, people feel comfortable sharing their journeys with us," Schmidt says.

Schmidt and her team love to chat and make their customers feel respected and honoured.

“Many retail jobs feel empty; it's about making the buck, selling the product...but Closet Couture is all about empowering people to help themselves,” she explained. 

Many walk into Closet Couture Boutique and feel “cheered up” by the timely customer service.

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Behind the Scenes

Practicing video by the river

Discovering Layne´s new mini library in front of our house in Brantford.

Emylee reading her leadership book.

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Michaela taking team photos.

Picking flowers

Busy working on the project

Hanging out in the living room

Reading in the hammock

Taking photos of her birthday flowers

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Why Does Leadership Matter?

During our three months in Brantford we had leadership every Thursday morning. Either our encouraging and gifted leader, Layne Beckner Grime or guest speakers taught us. I have learned A LOT in these times! They were good for the soul.

Judith, Emylee and I have shared our experiences of leaders (good and bad) from the past, reflected on our own leadership styles and dreamed about leadership roles we would like to take on in the future. We have learned that leadership is all about and for people. A good leader is encouraging, positive, hardworking, humble, trustworthy and so much more.

Honestly, guys there is so much more I still need to learn about leadership. The more I’ve been learning, the more I am willing and wanting to learn. I want to push myself harder to become a good leader. I want my life to influence and have a positive impact on others.

"LEADERSHIP IS NOT ABOUT TITLES, POSITIONS OR FLOWCHARTS. IT IS ABOUT ONE LIFE INFLUENCING ANOTHER."  -JOHN C. MAXWELL

One of our remarkable speakers and Founder of Messengers United, Christophe Ulysses’ mission is to help grow local churches. He travels the world preaching the gospel and teaching others how to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. He taught us on the multiplying effect of leadership. If we start to deeply impact others, it will have a multiplying effect. Those we lead will become leaders themselves.

Christophe also taught us on the three dimensions of leadership which are:

UP: We are created for intimacy with God. This deep relationship with the Lord is like a vessel that drives us. Everything flows from here.

IN: We need to have relationship with other believers and mentors who pour into us. It makes us stay alive and motivated to go on, even in hard times.

OUT: This is where we pour into others what we have received. We don´t want to keep what we have learned for ourselves.

Why do we believe leadership is important? Why does it matter? Are we really doing what Jesus did and investing in the lives of others? Good leadership helps to create a better world.

TRUE RELIGION IS TAKING CARE OF THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS IN THEIR DISTRESS AND KEEPING YOURSELF UNPOLLUTED BY THE WORLD.  -JAMES 1:27

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Thank You for Serving!

We are working on a project which is focused on refugees and the challenges in their lives. Sometimes I ask  myself, “ what am I actually doing and does it really matter?”

The longer we work on the project, the more I believe it matters.

We are not caring for the daily needs of people or building long term relationships because we were only here for a few months but instead we are telling stories of heroes, maybe like you, which need to be told! Stories about people who care and connect with refugees to make them feel welcomed. People who invested their time, maybe for  years, before mainstream was talking about the refugee crisis. People who gave a lot without expecting to get back. People who stayed up late and got up early in the morning. People who fought for individuals and cared for them like they were a part of their family. People who went on when many others gave up because they didn´t see success. People who patiently cared far beyond their cultural boundaries. People who were open to partner with new people even though they didn´t know if they will stay engaged after the first excitement is gone. People who risked opening their homes and hearts and never gave up.

I met a lot of these people in the last years and weeks. I want to tell you that I'm proud of you, we are proud of you! We care about and need you! I met people from cultures where family is everything, and they naturally called YOU a part of their family!

Even when no one thanks you enough  for everything that you do, God sees it and he will reward you someday because you care for the ones who are important to him!

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Dinner with Noor

We had a dinner with our friend Noor. She brought delicious food from her country and coffee, which she prepared at our place. Over dinner, coffee and chocolate chip cookies, we were talking. Her life is so much different from what we three have experienced. It was so interesting to listen to her stories. Community is something so priceless! Not only the good food you might have, it also includes time, and time is one of the most precious things we have to give!

Challenge:

Invite a refugee, migrant or new neighbor to your place. Keep it simple. It doesn´t need to be perfect! I´m sure, you will be blessed by the experience!

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Becca McLellan

Becca McLellan is charismatic, authentic and fun-loving. She has been been employed at Why Not for two and a half years as a Community Developer. She works very hard to support youth through her duties in administration, grant writing, public relations, developing programs for the youth and the training and placement of volunteers and LITS. McLellan volunteered as a Youth Mentor and then a Placement Coordinator for five years before becoming a staff member.

Why Not “provides social and resource support to street and homeless youth in Brantford.” It began in 2002 when the founders, Charlie and Sue Kopczyk wanted to “find a way for [the] community to help [the] community.” The organization tries to boost “youth’s self esteem, confidence and sense of exhilaration” as the youth face many challenges such as “poverty, homelessness, history of abuse, unplanned pregnancy, and mental health issues.”

Staff members are usually the “first providers,” which connect youth with “health care, scholarship opportunities, and housing” through organizations such as “Brantford Welcome in Resource Center, the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Brant Family and Children’s Services, St. Leonard’s Community Services and more.” Staff members therefore rely on volunteers to develop deep relationships with the youth to understand the issues that the youth face and to provide resources for them.

McLellan loves to train, encourage and empower the volunteers and LITs (Leaders in Training). The volunteer team are about 90% young adult who are either completing placements from post secondary school or graduates that would like to gain experience. The other 10% are individuals who care about their community and who want to make a difference. She developed the LIT program while working at Why Not. She chose those whom exemplified leadership qualities and asked them to complete an application, interview, and attend four hours of training. When they accomplished all requirements, they all agreed to to:

  1. Place all youth before themselves.  

  2. Greet all new youth.

  3. Demonstrate leadership abilities.

  4. Be enthusiastic about all group activities.

  5. Listen to the youth and provide volunteers and/or staff members with critical information on homelessness, criminal cases, and crisis situations.

She hopes to continue the LIT program as she has happily seen the youth “push themselves beyond their limits.”

McLellan doesn’t just do this for herself but for a higher purpose. “When people help people, they tend to help themselves a lot, too,” McLellan shared. She wants to invest in the youth not only to make changes in themselves but in their families and communities.

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To Tell a Story

One of the challenges, working on Status Welcomed, has been to earn people's’ trust during the short time that we are here. Time is necessary to gain good stories and photographs, to show who they really are. There are lots of reasons why people don't want to be photographed and known as refugees. It can be for safety reasons or their hopes to be known as normal citizens, without the refugee stigma.

Sometimes we need a interpreter to communicate what we're doing. We tend to be very dependent upon him/her. 

With the help of our interpreter we could see the people getting to understand the purpose of us being there; it´s a beautiful thing. They sometimes get excited and want to help us tell the world about the challenges that they face.

Although, I totally understand when people are not open to do that, and we never want to put them in risk. It's so amazing when they are open because personal stories are much stronger than some general news. It touches us on a much deeper level. Sometimes we need to hear a personal story to finally stand up and do something about an issue!

Alison is one of the persons who have helped us to connect and meet up with refugees. Working for the “True City Refugee Engagement Project” she has been involved in refugee work for years and is making a huge impact on peoples life. She is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. Thank you Alison for everything you are doing. We appreciate it so much!

Alison is one of the persons who have helped us to connect and meet up with refugees. Working for the “True City Refugee Engagement Project” she has been involved in refugee work for years and is making a huge impact on peoples life. She is one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met.

Thank you Alison for everything you are doing. We appreciate it so much!

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