by Shanna from Spokane
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." LB
Have you ever seen a beautiful African woman, brightly dressed talking to a stranger on the bus or at the bus stop? If you have, it was probably Claudia Sawyer. It was on May 13, 2007 when I had the privilege of meeting Claudia. I was attending a refugee simulation program for my multicultural immersion community project where Claudia was a volunteer. We were given the first half of a horrifying story before the beginning of the simulation, and met Claudia for the first time as she took the role of a hardnosed employee of the State Refugee Admittance Center during the midst of the simulation. At that moment, I was scared of Claudia, terrified even, but she was just doing a good job at playing her role; and I in no way knew that she would end up being a woman who exemplified what caring and citizenship truly were - not that she was even born in the United States - that day Claudia became my hero. After the simulation was over, Claudia shared the rest of the story that we heard before the simulation had begun - the rest of HER story.
Claudia spent her childhood in Liberia, where her father worked closely with the Liberian President, making him a target for those against the president. When Claudia was ten, rebels invaded her home forcing Claudia and her siblings into another room while they killed her grandparents and father. Claudia's first inclination when she was forced into the room was to escape through the window and go and retrieve help. She was unsuccessful, and when she returned she found her home in ashes and her family gone. For six years, she stayed with neighbors who allowed her to stay as long as she posed as a slave for them, often taking abuse with the invitations. She finally was able to board a ship of an unknown destination as bullets flew in all directions around her and killed a friend that had been running beside her. The ship took her to Ghana where Claudia and the other Liberians were taken to a small refugee camp. There she heard of another refugee camp five hours away in Budurum where there was to be a Liberian Independence celebration. After Claudia had attended the celebration, she was getting ready to go back to her camp when she saw a woman who looked like her mother. She cried out her name once, and then a second time until her mother turned and saw her and they were reunited. Claudia had not known that her grandparents and father had been killed that day and was mixed with excitement and sadness when she was reunited with the rest of her family that day. After nine more years in Budurum, reunited with her family, being turned down for refugee status in Australia and Norway, they arrived in Spokane, WA in February.
Claudia's first response to the cold weather was fear. She exclaimed, "It reminded me of the morgue, where they put dead people! I did not want to go out of the airport because I thought I might die!" Although Claudia's first response was fear, she is a woman of faith and trusted God to keep her safe. She has learned to like Spokane and actively participates in the community through World Relief as a volunteer helping other refugees find placements in Spokane and educating people about what a refugee is and how they can help. She frequents the bus where she is always starting up friendly conversations with complete strangers. She works at the Davenport Hotel full-time as a housekeeper, and encourages other refugees not to expect life to be given to them on a silver platter, but to really earn their way and struggle if that is what it takes. Though she misses things about her homeland, Claudia says that she wouldn't want to go back. She says, "I miss my dad. I miss my real kind of food, my church, music, the way we dance, but I don't have to go to bed thinking about how many bullets are flying over me. There's some sort of peace reigning over my heart."
That day, the day I met Claudia, I approached her to thank her for sharing her story with me. She gave me a smile and then pulled me in for a hug and exclaimed, "Anytime you want to hear more stories, I have plenty more where that one came from." As I finished my thank you and headed out to my car, Claudia stayed with me. From time to time I see her around town, and she always smiles and waves. I wonder if she remembers me, but realize it doesn't matter - she has made a difference in my life.
Page created on 7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
Last edited 7/13/2007 12:00:00 AM
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