Bright Spot: Locals welcome refugees through World Relief Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Sitting in a living room in a suburban Memphis home is probably the last place Godefroid and Imacule Karangwa thought they’d be almost two years ago.

“We fled from Congo to Rwanda and that was not easy there.Stayed there 21 years.”

They left their country with their four children fleeing war. With the help of an international Christian organization the Karangwas landed in Memphis.

“And it was a very big change. Life in America is very different from life in the refugee camps.”

World Relief Memphis was founded in 2012 and exists to help immigrants live quality lives in the U.S. Families are referred to World Relief, assigned through the state department or they simply walk in their office. The organization also offers a wide range of services.

“Through volunteers and things at our Connect Language Center, our legal services, our welcoming services, our elderly programming, employment services.”

In Memphis, a huge part of resettlement for immigrant families is being connected with “good neighbor teams” through World Relief. Bob and Laura Whittsitt along with two other women makeup the team for the Karangwas. There is a language barrier but the two families have connected. The Whittsitts and Karangwas have bonded over their love of family.

“When you finally get to know a family and go beyond a title and get to understand their name, when you get to know them as individuals, get to know their families it just changes how you see or even think about a refugee,” said Bob Whittsitt.

The good neighbor team helps with things like school registration for children, doctor’s appointments, sharing American culture and showing the best of what Memphis has to offer.

“I think primarily it’s being their friend.”

“They really need friends when they come here,” said Laura Whittsitt. “They come here, most of them alone, they may know a few people here but they have very few friends.”

Working with World Relief families also allows the Whittsitts to do something they believe in as a couple.

“His heart is for the nations, mine is for inner city education so I’ve been very focused on the kids and helping them get plugged into schools, to the right schools and making sure they are focused on their education.”

The Karangwa’s daughter Liliane is a 6th grader at Lester Prep Academy. The 11-year-old likes soccer and pizza. She also values the education she’s getting in Memphis.

“I couldn’t understand anything in math but right here right now I understand everything in math.”

Her brother Thiery is a sophomore at Central High School and is also focused on his books.

“Back home I would like to do something like play but right now everything is about school.”

The children aren’t the only ones learning in their new country. Godefroid has English classes several times a weeks at World Relief Memphis’ Connect Language Center and he’s making progress.

“At my job I can try to understand my supervisor, my team leader. It helps me.”

It’s a win win for the community when families new to our city are able to connect with the community and share their gifts.