Getting to Know You

Feb. 9-15, 2006
Getting to Know You
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Photo’s submitted
Franciscan Ministries Hopes for Strong Ties with Somalian Refugees

The Franciscan community on the northside of Syracuse has had a longstanding history of reaching out to refugees.

When the Franciscans were approached by Catholic Charities in regards to opening their arms to 12 Somalians who arrived last week, the response was no different. “It’s consistent with our ministry and our mission,” said Dave Allen, the director of special projects for the Franciscans.

The Franciscan community owns a recently vacated house next to the Assisi Center on Catawba Street off North Salina and its doors were opened to this most recent group of refugees. “We’ve always been very interested in refugee resettlement whether it’s with Catholic Charities or with the InterReligious Council,” said Allen, whose responsibilities include managing the properties owned by the Franciscans in Syracuse.

The violence gripping Somalia was made famous in the 2001 epic “Black Hawk Down.” Anarchy has reigned supreme in the East African nation since 1991. The most stable government exists in the splinter state of Somaliland while the rest of the nation proper is ruled by various warlords. No foreign government officially recognizes Somaliland although Ethiopia recently opened trade relations. Catholic Charities Director for Refugee Resettlement Kip Hargrave believes that this group of refugees had lived in a camp in Kenya for several years before finally coming to the U.S.

“They come from a very fragile background,” said Friar Phil Kelly, OFM Conv. According to Friar Phil, the Franciscans are anxious to develop a stronger relationship with this particular family. Allen noted that the Franciscans’ relationship with the previous occupants had not been an intimate one.

“We want to be more active with this group in particular,” Allen said. “Previously we were just primarily landlords and that’s not really what we’re interested in. We want to be engaged and understand what they’re going through and be open to whatever they might need. You learn as you go along. It would be wonderful to be more attached to them. We don’t want to interfere but certainly we want to be there for them and we want them to know that we’re interested in their care and they’re learning our ways and getting them going.” Much of the Franciscans’ experience with refugee communities has been with the Sudanese who have resettled in the Syracuse area. The Franciscans are currently trying to bring education opportunities to Sudanese mothers in the Syracuse area.

“They [the Sudanese] were very keen on providing education for the mothers in their community. My first reaction was ‘Why don’t you go to a day-care center,’” Friar Phil said, explaining that the Sudanese mothers were reluctant to leave their children for even as long as two hours while they were nursing them. In order to become more familiar with their new tenants, the Franciscans have been in contact with the Somalians’ sponsoring parish, St. Mary’s in Jamesville. Parishioners from that church cleaned the house thoroughly in anticipation of the Somalian family’s arrival and also donated what Hargrave estimates to be $6,400 in furniture.

Friar Phil noted that the refugees who have the aid of a sponsoring parish often have a leg up. “The families that get locked into a sponsorship do very well,” he said. Last week, Hargrave asked that the new Syracuse residents be given a little time to rest after their long journey from East Africa. Once they’re settled in, however, the obligation will be on Catholic Charities to make them productive residents within four and one half months. Everyone in the family over 18 years of age will be expected to find a job within that time frame. In the meantime, Catholic Charities is responsible for helping the refugees become accustomed to life in Syracuse by providing them with clothing, a benefit card and home life. Many Somalians are unfamiliar with some of the things Americans might see as staples such as stoves and refrigerators.

Friar Phil hopes that the home environment will help the family maintain the unity that has enabled them to survive in one of Africa’s most troubled regions. “Togetherness has helped them survive,” he said.

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