On April 26th, more than 100 women leaders gathered from across the Region to hear the stories of “Ruth’s Journey: Building Communi-TEA.” This was a coming together of interfaith leaders with a discussion about the impact of immigration on women and their families.
Renee Chou, reporter/anchor for WRAL-TV, moderated the event, with key note speaker, Rev. Anne Hodges-Copple, Bishop Suffragan-Elect, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.
Flicka Bateman and Christine Wai’sstory is one that shows how friendship can transcend age, culture, and other differences. Flicka had lived in the Chapel Hill area for over 30 years when a refugee family moved in across the street. Christine had grown up in a Thai refugee camp where persecutors had burned down her school three times, preventing her from learning and receiving an education. Christine, a young teen raised in a Thai refugee camp, accepted all the mentoring Flicka offered. Flicka not only tutored her in English, but gave her driving lessons (the description of which generated laughs from the speakers and audience), provided a part-time job as a dog-walker, and encouraged her to pursue a college education. Today, in her late-20’s, Christine has a degree in Chemistry and works for a research laboratory at UNC-CH. These two are still growing together, as Flicka is studying the Karen language, that Christine Wai teaches at CHICLE, and they have visited Thai refugee camps together.
Vimala Rajendran, came to the United States with her new husband
, 30 years ago. Three children later, she found herself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. Although she was prevented from working under her spousal visa, which posed barriers to her leaving her abusive relationship, she utilized this time to study, get involved in media, and become an activist for international peace. Once separated from her husband, Vimala and her children had a glimpse of true poverty. To overcome this struggle, she spent all of her time cooking favorite family recipes for donations. These community dinners proved to be the foundation for Vimala’s Curryblossom Café, a restaurant which pays its employees a living wage and is committed to feeding its community regardless of their ability to pay.
I was touched by these stories of strength and friendship and how we are more resilient when we work together. When women from the United States welcome refugees and immigrants, not only do they get the chance to learn about a new culture, but they gain friends who will partner to change our community for the better.
We will be hosting our own Communi-TEA here in Triad Region in the coming months. Stay tuned to find out more.
Photos courtesy of N.C. Council of Churches.