Rebecca was 14 when she came to the United States as an Unaccompanied Refugee Minor (URM), along with other “lost” boys and girls from Sudan.
Living in a Kenyan refugee camp for eight years, Rebecca was alone because her mother had died in childbirth and her father had passed while fighting the Khartoum government. “Every day I woke up not knowing hope,” she recalls.
Through the help of our supporters, LIRS and Bethany Christian Services placed Rebecca in a loving foster family in Holland, Michigan. She was the first “lost” girl in Holland, and her community embraced her and even gathered together to pay her tuition for a private high school.
After high school, Rebecca went to college and graduate school. She now works for the American Bible Society in D.C., providing biblically-based trauma healing in refugee camps. In June, she’ll be participating in LIRS’s World Refugee Day Academy and advocate for welcoming policies on Capitol Hill.
Rebecca says she owes her success to the loving support of her family and community. “I couldn’t have survived here without the community around me.” She speaks from experience when she says:
Kids need a place to be loved and provided for. When they have all these things, all these stigmas of being a refugee disappear and they have their life ahead of them and can be effective members of society. You cannot do it on your own. You need a community to help you on your journey.
The URM program allows refugee children to have a family, a community that believes in them, and hope for a future they couldn’t have imagined while in refugee camps. Foster families play an essential role in giving children the confidence, optimism, and security they need to succeed. LIRS and our partners are there at every step of the way with foster parents.
Kerri Socha, LIRS Child Services Placement Coordinator, explains:
The URM program is often instrumental in helping children and teens adjust to life in the United States. LIRS’s partners work hand-in-hand with foster parents to identify the specific needs of each refugee child so they are able to thrive in all areas of their life and make a successful plan for the future. They teach youth to reach for the stars and never limit their expectations of what they can accomplish now that they are safe in the United States.
Unfortunately, the number of foster families is far below the demand. Chak Ng, LIRS Assistant Director for Quality Assurance and Capacity Developments explains:
Long waiting lists result in children waiting longer in refugee camps or shelters around the United States. They often live in unsafe environments and receive lower quality of care inadequate to meet their many needs. For children with high medical or mental health needs the longer wait for foster homes can have adverse effects.
It doesn’t take special skills to become a foster parent. The ability to give love and provide support are the main requirements, and the benefits last a lifetime. Through fostering, Rebecca says, both the families and the refugee youth, are blessed to have one another.
Photo courtesy of Rebecca Deng.