Meeting the Most Resilient Children by Kelcie Murphy

March 2, 2020
I’m lucky enough to have these awesome AmeriCorps Team Members serving alongside me at the IRC.

I became a volunteer, family mentor, and intern for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in 2016 when they reopened their field office in Missoula to resettle refugees into the community. The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. The IRC operates in more than 40 countries and 26 U.S. cities. Our dedicated teams provide clean water, shelter, health care, education, and empowerment support to refugees and displaced people. In Missoula, our team helps families transition into their new life in America by providing case-management, education, housing, employment, financial literacy, and other supportive services.

Working with the IRC has always been a long-term goal of mine, and becoming an AmeriCorps Leader was my opportunity to become involved in refugee resettlement. Prior to graduating from the University of Montana and serving at the IRC, I had worked and studied overseas in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey. I made friendships there that will last a lifetime while I listened to their oral histories, cooked traditional meals, and learned the value of an American passport. Seeing numerous humanitarian crises unfold abroad made me want to take actionable steps back home to alleviate some of the hardships I witnessed. Most of all, I felt an overwhelming obligation to serve the communities that had brought so much life to mine.

This is Sarah, one of the refugee children I’ve mentored. I was so happy to see her getting off the bus after her first day of school in Missoula!

I chose to become an AmeriCorps Leader because of that sense of duty I felt to the communities that I belonged to. Since becoming an AmeriCorps Leader for the IRC, I have served as a liaison between refugee families and our community partners like Soft Landing Missoula, Missoula County Public Schools, and the University of Montana, to provide school enrollment, academic mentoring, and college access opportunities. I also serve as the liaison between our refugee families and Child Care Resources, Missoula Head Start, and various childcare centers, after-school programs, and summer camps, to provide access to early education and gender equitable opportunities for our families.

We have over 360 refugees in the Missoula community in addition to an expected 100 refugees arriving in Missoula this year, so I’m kept on my toes. The services we provide to these families are of the highest impact to these children’s lives. For most refugee youth, formal education was either non-existent, interrupted, or under-resourced in both the countries they fled from and fled to. The impacts of trauma, whether from fleeing for your life or living in a refugee camp, linger for these children. This could lead to adverse, if not disastrous, effects in their adult lives. When formal education becomes available to these families, there is an opportunity to rise above the adversity. These families have the most resilient children I have ever seen. On top of living through the refugee experience, they now have to navigate two, if not more, worlds and languages. Education and educators provide a transformative outlet and a stepping stone to success in American life. I serve as an AmeriCorps Leader because these children teach me more about life, love, loss, and transcendence than I could possibly learn in a regular job. I strive to be like them. Being part of AmeriCorps has provided me the greatest opportunity for to give back to those I admire and cherish the most.

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