Letter From the CVRAN President: Tiny Footholds in the Walls

Dear CVRAN Community,

It was so good to see you a good portion of you this last week, seated – in person! – in a large circle at Christ Church. Twenty-eight of us were there to hear about innovative ideas for fundraising, for welcoming immigrants, and about some needs. We heard from our pro bono lawyer Seth Lipschutz, and from Brian Kravitz of Adult Basic Education. Best of all, we heard from two of our graduating partners about their experiences since coming to Vermont. Ghazi and Jhuly each spoke so profoundly and personally about the stages of their sojourns: arriving feeling broken, lost, and clueless; how much even a small gesture from one person can feel so huge to the recipient; and the warmth and progress they have felt over the length of their stay. The room hushed to hear their messages.

Ghazi’s and Jhuly’s experiences are good reminders of how action can counter despair. We all so often despair over the state of our world, situations over which we have no control, dreadful experiences that cause someone to leave their home country. Yet, walls that seems immense, unsurmountable, and depressingly wrong from a distance, often have tiny footholds of opportunity up close. Each one of the asylum seekers knows this from experience. Their fortitude and resilience in surviving horrors at home and in venturing forth to a new beginning here is inspiring. Once, when I expressed frustration at how little I could change, one asylum seeker counselled me, “Only God is perfect. Only God can control everything.” We, the asylum seekers and the CVRAN members, each look for the small personal footholds where we can step up and act, even when we can’t change the wall.

Along the way there is joy and friendship. Why do we keep coming back with energy for each other? It is the joy of the children: a 7-year-old on her first trip to the dentist hamming it up for her dad as she sat in the dentist’s chair, or her cousin discovering the wonder of a train set at the library at just the right level for a 2-year-old. It is standing at the top of a mountain with a man or a group of boys who can outhike anyone, breathing in the vista and the winds together. It is a brand new baby, racing through a corn maze, long discussions over coffee. It is our struggle to articulate and share one way of life and being immensely enriched by another.

And there is progress. Ghazi and Jhuly spoke to it. We do not know what the future will hold for any of our partners, but we see so many changes along the way. It starts perhaps with saying “thank-you” in English, to reading in a new language, to school, jobs, driver’s licenses, and finding Vermont winters can actually be fun! And for CVRAN volunteers? Progress for us is in learning about the immigration system, housing, jobs, and the impact of a good law or a bad one. And many, many times, we relearn humility by tailoring our offers of service to what our partners choose, and to the unpredictability of what occurs.

So what actions can make the world a little better? It is not a group of Americans welcoming in newcomers. It is not a group of asylum seekers and refugees ready to start over. It is all of us, working together, struggling to find those tiny footholds in the walls.