ROCK ISLAND — Refugees at a family literacy program Tuesday at Church of Peace were treated to some pre-Halloween ”goodie” bags.
But instead of candy, ther bags contained personal items, such as shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant.
Vicky Bernadette was one of 50 refugees treated by St. Ambrose University occupational therapy students, who have been helping them adjust to life in the U.S.
Ambrose graduate students have helped teach refugees how to read recipes, write checks, use a phone book, understand clothing sizes and use U.S. currency, as part of an English as a Second Language program sponsored jointly by Black Hawk College of Moline, the Illinois Secretary of State, Rock Island-Milan school district, Rock Island County Regional Office of Education Lights On and the church.
Giving them self-care products was designed to accustom them to U.S. customs on things such as bathing and tooth-brushing frequency, Ambrose student Kelsey Nolan said.
Most of the refugees at the event were from Myanmar, formerly called Burma, as well as Iraq and the African areas of Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania.
Collecting supplies and money to buy items was something Ms. Nolan said she and classmates felt compelled to do.
The energy refugees have thrown into learning new words and tasks ”is quite touching,” she said. ”This is the least we can do for all their hard work.”
Ms. Nolan told refugees it was almost Halloween and time for kids to get dressed in costumes to go trick-or-treating, a concept recently explained to them in class.
”We all love candy, but these are some basic personal items we hope you will find helpful,” she said.
What made the day more somber was the Sunday death of refugree student Ka Sher, 51, and the Tuesday funeral, program coordinator Lisa Viaene said, holding back tears.
”Knowing where he came from and the struggles he endured will stay with me forever,” she said. ”The people I want to thank the most today are my students. You brighten my world.”
The Rev. Michael Swartz said the students reminded him of the church’s founding 116 years ago.
”We have been in the business of helping immigrants for most of that time,” Rev. Swartz said. ”First, it was our German founders, and now it’s a new, recently immigrated group of neighbors.
”It redeems a bond with our church forbearers, helps a group of new immigrants adapt to this country, and is an opportunity for us to live out our faith,” he said.
”We have come full circle. It looks like coming to America all over again.”