An inside look at the lives of Roanoke, VA refugee volunteers

Here is a feature story in the Roanoke Times about Jim and Diana Martin and their work with Bhutanese (Nepalis) refugees that reportedly consumes 80 hours a week between the two of them. [By the way, if the resettlement agency they volunteer for is in the match grant system, their hours are recorded as in-kind service and the agency gets matching cash from you —the taxpayers—for the Martin’s work, but that is a story for another day.]

Since I had just written about Iraqis returning to Iraq when their American ‘stuff’ didn’t suit them, it’s this Iraqi part of this long article about the “caring” couple that caught my attention.

….the Martins were assigned as mentors to an Iraqi woman and her two sons.

It was a disaster, by all accounts.

The Martins greeted the family at the airport, and, rather than deliver them to the apartment they’d just spent days furnishing, they took them home to their own five-bedroom house in Botetourt County.

The house was in a new development, with flower beds and a 2-acre lawn, with computers and a wide-screen TV.
“We were so naive,” Diana says.

When the weekend ended, they delivered the Iraqis to their cramped, two-bedroom apartment, with the noisy neighbors and the thrift-store TV. The family was crestfallen.

It became clear, too, that the mother suffered from anxiety attacks. She spent several nights in the emergency room and became so homesick that she begged to be sent back to Iraq.

Not a good start for the Martins (like all of us they must have assumed that the Iraqis were appreciative of their new life).

So, in deciding to turn their attentions to the Nepalis who seemed (as the article tells us):

…. gracious and happy with what they had.

They got their answer:

Were the Nepalis the people God had in mind for her now?

The answer came just after Christmas 2009. They’d been visiting her son’s family in Colorado for the holiday and returned to learn that the Iraqi family they were mentoring had gone home to Iraq while they were gone.  [Not even a good-bye and thanks?]

In 2009 we also had other Iraqi refugees returning to the Middle East from Virginia, here.

The Roanoke Times article also gives us a good answer to why our health care costs will rise!

Eventually, Lutjen (Beth Lutjen, refugee office director, Commonwealth Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigration Services) asked the Martins to take on a few special cases:

The parents of a hemophiliac who couldn’t communicate with the child’s geneticist, even with an interpreter present.

Jim got the doctor to begin by describing a simple case of eye color before he launched into the couple’s chances of having another hemophiliac child.

Nar Sunawar, a man who arrived with bone infections as well as complications from childhood polio. A retired disability caseworker for the state of Texas, Diana spent weeks culling disparate medical records to prepare his claim. (“Dinah is Roanoke Mom,” Sunawar said recently at his Elm Avenue home, where Jim holds one of his three weekly English classes on the living room floor.)

A woman with an autoimmune disorder, who wrongly thought her Indian internist was overprescribing medications, causing her to bloat. Jim went with her to the doctor with the intention of firing him but came to realize the man was capable; he just didn’t communicate at their level.

“These people are off the farm with no education,” Jim explained. “Tell her: ‘Your body is trying to eat your kidney.’ “

There is more!  Read the whole article.

We have written about problems with refugee resettlement in Roanoke on many previous occasions.  In April 2008 we reported on conflicts between Black Americans and the new African refugees here.  Later that year we posted on jobless Iraqis in Roanoke, here.  But, probably the biggest refugee news out of Roanoke in recent years was the attempted kidnapping of some prominent women in the town by a bunch of refugees and the subsequent trial, here and here.  Most recently we had a national news story about a Bosnian refugee war criminal who slipped through the system and was found in Roanoke.

Roanoke’s refugees sure keep the place hopping!

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