By Joseph C. Walloch, Psy.D.
Assistant Director of Training
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” –John Wesley (Theologian)
For many, there often comes a time when one wants to do something more substantial, more profound for human kind—A way to give back to a culture that has given so much to you and your family over the years. A culture only in recent years you have discovered of which you’re a part. Given the current political climate in which we live where travel bans, limitations on refugees taken into the country’s landscape, and xenophobia are a part of the struggle with which many are grappling, I found myself called to serve and to support those brothers and sisters who are the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. I have thought for a while now that I wanted to do something more to help those in need and those who hold almost no privilege at all in our great society. This past summer, I met with executive director Dr. Carina Black of the Northern Nevada International Center at UNR to discuss how I can support displaced refugees from North Africa and the Middle East who have been given an opportunity to start anew in Reno, Nevada. She talked to me about a Syrian family she thought could use my time, care, and language ability, given that I command a conversational ability in colloquial Arabic.
This family settled in the Reno metro area approximately a year ago. The oldest child serves as their “breadwinner” due to the parents’ inability to communicate in English and the father’s medical disability. This man, only 20 years old, has experienced more trauma than many of us, including myself, at such a young age; it’s almost unimaginable. I was told that he is in desperate need of psychological treatment yet, like many, he is understandably skeptical. In more collectivist cultures, seeking “help” outside of the family unit is unheard of and only the “crazy” partake in such therapy. If only they knew that I’ve been a consumer of therapy too! Over time, my goal is to earn his trust enough to encourage him to seek the treatment he needs and deserves. He has so much he can give to the world as a savvy businessman. The 17 year old in the family wants to learn how to drive and enjoy the freedoms that many experience exploring the city and aiding the family by working a part-time job of his own. I’ve decided that this is my chance to be that driver’s education instructor I’ve always wanted to be—not really! What have I gotten myself into! You know you’ve made some impact on a person when you enter their home and hear “My best friend is here!” It’s an incredible feeling. These children have gone through so much tragedy in their lives yet they haven’t let their past dictate their ability to thrive in a new environment. I grow closer to them more and more each time I see them.
Many have asked me what this endeavor has been like. Like many emotional experiences we have in our lives, it’s not easily put it into words. For those who know me well, I love to socialize. I love to laugh. I love to joke (both appropriately and inappropriately) and poke fun. My relationship with this family allows for all this so in that respect it’s not unlike many of the relationships I’ve fostered. While many of my friends, both past and present, appreciate my loyalty and how I’ve been there in times of need, there is a qualitative difference in the ways this family expresses their appreciation. Again, this is virtually impossible to explain in this medium. It’s something you just feel by how they look at you and offer you traditional black tea infused with cardamom—it’s a classic that you must try; it’s fabulous! It almost brings me to tears while writing this for I know the tea offered to me may have been just a bit out of their budget but for them it is indispensable because that’s how people from North Africa and the Middle East express connection. They are warm, hospitable, and always want to make sure you are comfortable and enjoying yourself. Through this experience thus far, I’ve learned we can never underestimate how influential our choices to serve can be. Even that driving lesson, as terrifying as it may be with a 17 year old, can make someone’s day. Ana behebbkun kiteer wa ana rah koon huni dayman! I love you and I’m always here for you.
Readers may be wondering about The Northern Nevada International Center (NNIC) at UNR and how to get involved. The NNIC has a wide variety of services. They have been resettling refuges from all over the world since 2016. Since that time, they have resettled several families in the Reno area. Like many non-profit organizations (NPO), their mission is to serve their clients as best as possible and ensure they have the tools they need to become successful on their own. One of their most helpful tools to help accomplish this large task is their mentor program—the program of which I’m a part. The objective as a mentor is to assist the assigned family with adapting to their new home and becoming self-sufficient as soon as possible. Anyone can become a member, provided you make it through the background check. Interested mentors need to contact the volunteer coordinator, Katelyn King or visit the website at www.unr.edu/nnic to get started.
If we can touch the lives of just a few, then maybe we can help change the often times not-so-very-flattering narrative that many have of Americans abroad.
To me, it’s worth every minute.