ATLANTA – As their arrival date neared, Christina Bellino ’15 hustled to get ready.
Though she didn’t know their favorite foods, she went to Walmart, bought groceries, and filled their refrigerators. Though she didn’t know their favorite colors, she scoured Goodwill and Salvation Army stores in search of sturdy, good-looking furniture for their new apartments.
When the refugee families, one Afghani and one Eritrean, finally touched down at Atlanta International Airport with only a few possessions in hand, Bellino was there to welcome them and drive them to their new homes in the United States.
“They’ve been dreaming about this day,” said Bellino, a psychology major and poverty studies minor from Roswell, Ga. “For me to be waiting for them with open arms, for me to be the first person that they see, that’s very touching.”
After hearing about the opportunity through Furman’s Catholic Campus Ministry, Bellino spent the summer as a volunteer intern with Refugee Resettlement Services, a program of Catholic Charities Atlanta. Through referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, the program provides initial housing, assistance with basic needs, an orientation to United States culture, transportation, job readiness and job placement, and access to English classes and health care.
CCA served nearly 20,000 clients during the 2013 fiscal year, providing a variety of services including nearly 11,000 hours of English language instruction and 280 hours of citizenship classes. More than 90 percent of refugee families resettled by the program become self-sufficient within six months of arrival to the United States, according to CCA.
With clients speaking dozens of different languages from Arabic to Somali, every day was different and presented a new challenge for Bellino.
“I appreciate Christina’s ability to hit the ground running,” said Kim Longshore, a community resource specialist with CCA’s Refugee Resettlement Services. “Her answer to everything is, ‘no problem.’”
Some days, the language barrier forced Bellino to communicate through lots of pictures and gestures. Some days, it was a little easier. One day, she was able to travel with a large group of refugee children to the Georgia Aquarium. “You don’t need words when you’re at the Aquarium,” Bellino said.
On another special day, she climbed up in the back of the CCA’s white pick-up truck to unload two donated bicycles, given to a family from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Though they spoke little English, the excitement on the children’s faces was enough for Bellino. “They’re near and dear to my heart,” she said of the seven-member family. “They’re so kind and appreciative.”
As Bellino got to know families, some shared stories of their harrowing journeys to America.
Aida, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics, spent the past decade in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan. Two of her three children were born in the camps before the family was resettled in Atlanta.
“It was a hard life,” she said, describing their tent home and their rations of wheat, sorghum, oil and sugar. “We suffered too much.”
She worked with Bellino over the summer learning job interview skills, in the hopes of finding a steady job along the city’s Marta route. Bellino, who plans to be a school psychologist, even gave Aida homework, interview questions to practice with her husband.
“I am happy because I am here. I want to help other people and I want to help myself,” said Aida. “It gives us hope to get started here.”
For more about internship opportunities, visit Furman Internships.