by Sarah Moauro
Today was an interesting day at the Refugee Center. The last few weeks, the office has seemed, at least during my hours, to have a decent amount of traffic coming through. I’ve been occupied with answering phones and doing odd jobs while Guadalupe, the main Spanish-speaking staff member, helps out the current clients. Today, I walked into the usual situation but my odd job was quite different than any of my previous tasks. When I came to the door, I was greeted by a small girl named Valentina around age 2 or 3. Startled by the sight of a stranger, she scuttled off to her mother whom was working with Guadalupe at the moment. With the center’s main desk covered in paperwork, I could tell the two were busy and figured I would spend my day finding files and taking messages. However, within a few minutes Guadalupe assigned me to a different task. As Valentina was bumbling about the office and about to get into a stack of books, Guadalupe looks at me and says, “Cuida la niña” (take care of the baby).
At first, not knowing what exactly to do, I followed her around and made sure she didn’t get her get her hands on anything important, taking away little tags she took off the filing drawer or a document she pulled apart. This, of course, made me not the friendliest figure to a little kid in a strange office, and she gave up and plopped herself under the desk next to her mom. I sat down in a chair next to her, and saw her picking up pens that had fallen through the cracks onto to the floor, and figured that this was not the best of toys for a toddler. Remembering that there were some art supplies around, I found a box of crayons, pulled out a notebook, and began to color in front of her. Quickly, she caught onto the idea and took a big interest in exploring the different colors that the Roseart box had to offer. Over the next half an hour, in between answering phone calls, I feel like I can say Valentina was pretty well entertained and the strange office became a much more comfortable and friendly place. As I gathered up my things at the end of the hour, Valentina followed me a little bit toward the door before going back to her mother as she was a little startled by the incoming volunteer, a new stranger. However small the gesture of a little kid treating me somewhat like a friend after an hour, it made me smile for the rest of my afternoon.
My experience made me think on my way home from the Refugee Center, two things in particular. First, even small gestures of friendliness and understanding can go a long way, whether it be finding something for a kid to relate to and use to make a scary office seem more like home or being patient and genuine to a client who is trying to adjust to life in new and intimidating setting. Whatever means you use to build trust, simple or not, they can make a difference in a client’s day, week, or much longer. Second, I more so than before realized that the work we were doing not only affects the people who immigrate into our community, but also the little ones that come along with them. Behind each client that is helped, there are many little Valentinas who are depending on the services that the Refugee Center provides.