Samir Al-Rachdan, 55, who arrived in Hamtramck, Michigan, four months ago, finds America to be a much more welcoming abode than the refugee camps in Syria and Jordan.
To express his gratitude to the nation, Al-Rachdan decided to do something in return. With the help of Syrian American Rescue Network, Syrian migrants have taken up volunteering at local churches to help local congregations and the underprivileged.
At Christmas, one of the Syrian asylum seekers who used to be a baker used his culinary skills to bake cookies for Christ Church Cranbrook at Bloomfield Hills. Refugees also served brunch to the needy at a church last month.
The refugees started the New Year by cleaning, cooking and setting up a temporary shelter for the homeless at Renaissance Vineyard Churches in Ferndale. Their next plan is to visit a retirement home on Valentine’s Day and distribute candy and flowers to the residents.
These volunteer programs were developed as a means to counteract the spreading anti-immigrant sentiments from some politicians’ rhetoric, which links refugees with terrorism. Many of the asylum seekers, including Al-Rachdan, were extremely distressed to hear the political views about immigrants.
“I implore everyone before making those kinds of judgments to get out there and meet some Syrians, meet some refugees and get to know us and know who we really are,” says Samir, adding, “The Syrian people have never been terrorists. The people who are terrorists are people who are hijacking our identity and claiming to act on our behalf, but those never belonged to us.”
The volunteers hope that Americans understand that refugees are not a threat to their security by giving back to communities through these generous acts.
"People are treating me as a human. They recognize that I am a person. They will smile at me when I’m here. They’ve given me a welcome,” says Al-Rachdan. “They’ve given me freedom. They’re treating me as a human being with rights. I am so grateful to this great country for welcoming us."