All kidding aside, I know many of my friends, family, and members from my church from back home have been wondering how I'm doing up here in South Dakota, and so I decided I should ease your anxious waiting and give everyone an update.
For those who haven't been following my every move (how dare you not know everything about my life....sorry now I'll put all kidding aside...), I have moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to volunteer for a year with Mennonite Voluntary Service!
I'm sure you may have many questions after reading that statement. What in the WORLD is in South Dakota, you may ask? What are Mennonites? And definitely the most important- do I have to wear long skirts and a bonnet?
Good questions, my friend. I have struggled with variations of these questions, in all shapes and sizes before coming 3 weeks ago. In the following posts, I am going to attempt to give an overview of what I'm doing, why I am doing it, and what it entails for my future.
A little over a year ago, I had just come back from Thailand feeling all this pent up emotion about what I had experienced and the different people I had met. Along the way, I was able to learn from many about the conflicts in Burma and the many refugees living on the border in Thailand. I can't pinpoint exactly why or when, but I knew I was meant to work with refugees resettling in America. I just knew. I feel this burning passion to help those who have been forced to flee their homes, come to this overwhelming country with nothing but their clothes on their backs, often separated from their family, and many of them victims of severe violence and torture. They feel lost, scared, yet hopeful. It's this dichotomy of pain in the past, struggle in the present, and hope for the future these people experience that draws me to them. Their insight on life, their cultural backgrounds, their beliefs, traditions, and history bring something different that I could never get enough of. Every time I learn something new, educate myself on the issues, or meet a refugee, hear their story, I know this is exactly where I belong.
After I graduated, I knew that I wanted to volunteer for an extended amount of time with refugees, not only to gain practical experience, but also to give up my time and my talents in order to help the most vulnerable population in the world in a physical act of sacrifice, an outward statement of my dedication.
Mennonite Voluntary Service fit that description. Mennonites have a long standing tradition of valuing peace, standing up for social justice, and working towards reconciliation, in the world and within the church. I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of, at least for a year. We also are paid a very small monthly stipend, a way to live in solidarity with the people we are trying to serve. There is also this Mennonite subculture that is FASCINATING, coming from a sociological viewpoint, but I'll save that for a later post :)
MVS placed me in Sioux Falls, SD. You, me and the rest of the world goes "whhhhhhhhat.... are there even refugees in Sioux Falls?" The answer is:YES! Or else I wouldn't be here. Duh. I'm working in the one office in Sioux Falls that resettles refugees...but they resettle over 2,000 refugees in this area a year! Seriously, if you think about the ratio of refugees to the overall population of Sioux Falls, its absolutely insane, especially since they ALL come through the Lutheran Social Services Refugee and Immigration Center here.
Sioux Falls, despite being cold and in the middle of no where, is actually an ideal place for refugees to resettle. First of all, there are jobs. Low skill jobs, and there are many of them. Second of all, housing is cheap. Third of all, its a small city. Most of these refugees are coming from literal makeshift camps, and they have lived there for over a decade. Can you imagine going from living in a canvas tent to New York City? I don't think so. At least Sioux Falls is more of a friendlier transition. And cheaper. And since there are already large populations of Bhutanese, Somali, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Liberian, and Burmese people here, more refugees are drawn to where their families and friends are. They just keep coming! Which, as a side note, also means there are lots of great places to eat. :)
SO. That is my brief overview of WHY I'm here...next up..what I've been doing! Stay tuned! :)
Love and miss you all,