Refugees to share their stories about ‘overcoming the odds’

Four refugee families will relay their stories of immigration as part of the Jewish Muslim Christian Dialogue of Southern New Jersey’s “From Refugee to Neighbor: Refugees Share Their American Stories” event.

On Sunday, Nov. 4, people from different walks of life will come together at Trinity Episcopal Church in Moorestown to share their stories. Four refugee families — each from a different country and of a different religious background — will relay their stories of immigration as part of the Jewish Muslim Christian Dialogue of Southern New Jersey’s “From Refugee to Neighbor: Refugees Share Their American Stories” event.

The event is part of the Jewish Muslim Christian Dialogue annual interfaith Breaking Bread series. The goal of the event is to express messages of welcome and for attendees to leave with a better understanding of a refugee’s journey.

“We’re hoping that [attendees are] going to walk away with a feeling that America has always been a country of inclusion and welcome, and that this is a good thing that we should continue,” Kathy Kaplan, co-chairperson for the Jewish Christian Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey, said.

The speakers come from Syria, Myanmar (Burma), Eritrea and Russia. Kaplan said the event will offer attendees an opportunity to hear what these families went through in their home countries and before resettling in the United States.

Kaplan said the inspiration behind the event started when one of their members read an article about volunteers for Catholic Charities working with immigrants. The article led them to Patrick Barry, director of refugee and immigration services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Camden.

A son of a refugee himself, Barry helps refugee families leaving war-torn countries. Kaplan said Barry will discuss the complex immigration process Catholic Charities has to navigate when assisting families.

Barry has been working with refugees through Catholic Charities for more than 35 years. He said through the Refugee Resettlement Program, he will receive an email that says refugees are arriving in 10 to 14 days, and he and his team have that short span of time to find an empty apartment and transform it into a home.

His team will scout out communities they think will be a welcoming fit, and they collect donations to help furnish the apartment. From there, Barry will pick the family up at the airport and help get them settled into their new home.

Catholic Charities helps the families to enroll their children in school, gets refugees in ESL classes and prepares them for their citizenship exam, which all refugees must take within five years of being in the country.

Barry has helped to resettle all four of the families who will speak on Nov. 4. He said the work has a personal connection for him because his mother fled Cambodia in the 1980s and relocated with her family to Philadelphia.

He recalls times where his family wasn’t always welcomed because of their refugee status. Despite that, his mother came to the United States, learned English, attended Temple University and became a pharmacist. He shares her stories with the refugees he works with to let them know the American dream is achievable and the same ambition to survive will continue on in their new home.

Barry said he was eager to speak at the event when Kaplan asked him to talk about his work.

“If I can just amplify the stories and voices of those who don’t always have a chance to discuss their stories, I’m more than willing to,” Barry said.

He said he hopes the program serves a gentle reminder that a refugee is someone who is escaping a dire situation where their life is threatened and they can no longer return home.

“All these stories are about overcoming the odds, the miraculous escape and the unyielding pursuit to protect family,” Barry said. “It is universal, the story of refugees, because throughout time people have been moving and migrating and there’s a reason why. Now, more than ever, we should be reminded of that journey of why these vulnerable people are seeking sanctuary and refuge.”

The program will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Moorestown. Refreshments will be served. The program is free, but seating is limited. Pre-registration is encouraged and can be done by emailing your name, phone number and number of attendees to breakingbreadjcm@gmail.com.