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Thoughts On…Connecting With Neighbors

By: Julie Nguyen, UNC-Chapel Hill Class of 2020


I started volunteering with Refugee Community Partnership because I wanted to serve community members who are experiencing challenges similar to those that my parents faced as refugees from Vietnam. I hoped to learn more about my family’s history and the experience of displaced people through service. RCP paired me with a family from Myanmar with whom I’ve worked for the past three years. I visited their family every week during the school year and helped them connect with resources, finish schoolwork and apply to jobs and to college.

In the process of helping my RCP family in their resettlement, I became closer with them. I attended piano recitals, took the kids out to places like the museum and helped them sign up for music lessons and soccer teams.

Over time, I learned more about their journey to Chapel Hill and the life that they had to leave behind. The relationships I built with my RCP family are important to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with them.

Not only did RCP connect me with members of the refugee community, but it also allowed me to meet other Carolina students and Chapel Hill community members who shared the same passion for empowering resettled families. My roommate and I both volunteered with RCP before meeting each other, and we were able to support each other and share ideas about volunteering with RCP after we became friends. Through RCP’s Employment Team, which works to help RCP members write resumes and apply to jobs, I met a group of dedicated volunteers who served as a resource to each other while aiding RCP members in finding employment.

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of RCP volunteers to deliver food and essential supplies, like diapers and cleaning supplies, to RCP families affected by the COVID pandemic. A substantial portion of the RCP community has lost their jobs or had their hours cut due to the pandemic. RCP is working around the clock to translate messages and documents to ensure that RCP members have access to reliable COVID-19 information, connect families with the services and resources and provide support so that RCP members can maintain financial security and continue working towards their long-term goals.

Through RCP, I learned cross-cultural humility. I became familiar with situations in which language was a barrier, and I discovered different ways of connecting with people.

Importantly, I have learned more about the circumstances and challenges that cause refugees to leave home. To quote the British Somali poet Warsan Shire, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” My service with RCP has inspired me to stay informed of current immigration and asylum policies and become an advocate for refugees. RCP has helped me develop my sense of civic duty, my capacity to serve and my awareness of the issues in our community. I’m honored to have the opportunity to serve my community in this way, and I want to make sure that our country continues to welcome displaced people and provide refuge for those who need it.

The Refugee Community Partnership is a nonprofit based in Chapel Hill that works to build a unique, comprehensive support infrastructure for relocated families. RCP serves families from multiple countries, including Syria, Congo and Myanmar (formerly Burma). RCP combines the resources of dedicated volunteers, local resource providers, social work professionals and nonprofit organizations to build a holistic community support infrastructure that fosters powerful and transformative relationships between relocated families and local stakeholders. RCP uses relationship-based empowerment to connect families with a supportive network of volunteers who work to address challenges at all levels while building personalized pathways to long-term goals.


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