June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day celebrated internationally to honor refugees worldwide – those who have fled war, violence, conflict, or persecution, and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country. We spend this time celebrating the strength of those forced to flee their home, building understanding for their plight, and recognizing the refugee community’s resilience and courage.
Thanks to you, we carry out these Catholic social teachings and serve our newest Alaskans through Refugee Assistance and Immigration Support (RAIS).
As Catholics, we know the importance of welcoming the stranger and that every human being is entitled to human dignity and respect. So many of us have been affected by the challenges of today, and we see the need locally and around the globe. Whether it’s a family experiencing homelessness here in Anchorage or an elder fleeing their home country, all of these people are our neighbors, created equally in the eyes of God. I believe it’s our calling to meet all of them with dignity, respect, and love.
RAIS has been welcoming refugees to Alaska since 2003, providing a bridge for refugees from their former life experiences to the new skills required for success in the United States.
Through a focus on economic self-sufficiency, community integration, and a respect for unique cultures, history, and traditions, RAIS creates an environment of compassion and encouragement for refugees to flourish. One way this is done is through Fresh International Gardens (FIG). FIG is a refugee-run farming co-op operated by RAIS, run primarily out of Grow North Farm in Mountain View. FIG helps refugees develop English-language and small business skills, access fresh vegetables, and earn supplemental income through farming and starting their own businesses.
When COVID hit our community hard last spring, FIG decided they wanted to help. FIG and CSS staff worked together to create a fund where donors could contribute to buy fresh produce from FIG farmers that would then go to St. Francis House Food Pantry, where families in need could get fresh produce. The joint effort — between donors, FIG farmers, St. Francis House Food Pantry, and RAIS — provided 2,300 pounds of fresh produce to families in need last spring. Offering fresh produce is a true gift, because it can be so expensive for our neighbors challenged with food insecurity.
Right now, FIG is preparing for the upcoming growing season, while RAIS is abuzz with the excitement of our first new arrival in an incredibly challenging year around the globe. A young man is arriving in Anchorage at the end of June, where he will be reunited with his family.
After many years of waiting, this young man will finally be able to travel after a recent change in travel restrictions. Staff are busy securing housing for this young man, finding furniture and household goods. On the day of his arrival, staff will arrive at the airport and take him to his new home – where he can be with his family and start his new life.
Each day, the RAIS team bears witness to the power of this community, the resilience of refugees, and the amazing things that happen when these two come together. Thank you for being a part of this and contributing to the success and stability of our neighbors, both here at home and around the world. We hope to see you this summer at Grow North Farm!
If you would like to learn more about World Refugee Day or get involved, please visit www.cssalaska.org/world-refugee-day/