November 2, 2012
Serving Refugees in Buffalo
“No matter what people I’m serving and no matter what country I’m in, I ask, ‘Where are the refugees and how can I help them?’” Melinda (Mindy) Ramey, Houghton 2012 graduate says. “It’s an enormous need and so many don’t know about it.”
Mindy serves with Journey’s End, a non-profit organization that supports refugees as they transition into the United Sates. Mindy works with older refugee students through Journey’s End’s “Making a Connection”, an alternative education program that provides ESL, GED, and vocational training.
Mindy describes how 20-year-old Iraqi refugee Hussein slumped into his seat on the first day of the MAC program. He had arrived in the U.S. ten days earlier knowing no English. His blue jeans and brown t-shirt covered his tanned, lanky frame. Three days into the program, Hussein said, “Mindy?” Shocked, since Hussein never spoke, Mindy replied, “What?” “Iraq is hot,” he said. Mindy replied, “Yes, it is!”
A few hours later as students described their home countries, Hussein spoke only once, proudly declaring again, “Iraq is hot.” Joy glimmered in his dark eyes. Mindy smiles as she recalls, “It was just this amazing moment, where I had taught him weather the day before, and he knew what hot meant, and Iraq was hot! It was one of those, ‘I feel like a proud mom’ moments.”
Mindy teaches Hussein and Congolese twins Moses and Tressor each morning. In the afternoons she facilitates refugee student internships in neighboring organizations, grocery stores, bookshops, and cafés.
“Occasionally, refugees get thrown into the woodwork, and they get lost in the cracks. Many refugee students are doing nothing,” says Mindy. “They have dropped out of school, can’t join GED programs because of low English ability, and can’t join ESL classes because they’re not old enough.”
Because of people like Mindy, the refugee students who often drop out of high school or get into trouble now have the opportunity to learn English in a safe and positive environment. Mindy says, “These kids are coming to our program and when they leave, they say, ‘That was amazing. I love this program!’”
“The most significant moment in my life with refugees happened one of the summers I worked with AmeriCorps in Buffalo,” says Mindy. She describes how five gaunt Eritrean refugee men stood before her at the Buffalo airport, their sunken eyes and bony frames speaking of ethnic persecution and five years of imprisonment. The men beamed and heartily shook Mindy’s hand. She led the men to her grey van, and they drove through the deserted midnight streets to their new home, a two-story townhouse in Buffalo’s urban center. The men eagerly explored the home, switching lights on and off, gasping as water flowed from the taps, and stroking the basic, second-hand furniture.
“They were just so overjoyed at every single thing they saw,” says Mindy. “They went into every room and they cried. They were so happy to be there!”
Mindy’s heart for refugees in Buffalo, like these Eritrean men, began in her freshman year at Houghton College. While participating in the Journey’s End refugee tutoring ministry, she came to cherish the Middle Eastern family she tutored. Mindy’s connection with Journey’s End led to summer work with Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps program that prepares refugee children for American public school.
Houghton Professor Chuck Massey states, “Having observed Melinda during her AmeriCorps service terms over three successive summers, I had the opportunity to see her grow and mature and blossom into a leader. Now it is a great joy to see her return to Buffalo after graduation to continue work with refugees through Journey’s End.”
Mindy’s future dreams include working at an overseas refugee camp, training local refugee educators, and developing ESL curriculum designed for refugees. From her first refugee encounter with the Middle Eastern family, to witnessing the joy of the gaunt Eritrean men, to currently working with her Iraqi and Congolese teenagers, Mindy feels strongly that God has orchestrated her path.
Mindy earnestly states, “I love working with these refugees, and I feel closest to the Lord when I’m with them!”
Other organizations serving refugees in Buffalo include Jericho Road Ministries, International Institute, Jewish Family Services and Catholic Charities. These organizations provide service opportunities in healthcare, housing, construction, accounting, business, law, education, donation, and friendship. For more information about Houghton's Impact in Buffalo, please visit: www.houghton.edu/academics/majors-programs/urban-connections .