With school out of session, students must find ways to fill their summer days. For three Newman students, this means giving back to those in need by helping the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC), sponsors of Newman University, care for refugee families.
Martina Viale, Dania Jumpa and Carolina Bianchi have spent numerous hours at the ASC Wichita Center helping with refugee families that the ASC sisters are sponsoring.
Each of these volunteers reflects on their experiences.
Martina Viale first got involved at the ASC Wichita Center when she was invited to help with her friend’s senior capstone project. While Viale was there, she met two of the children whose families were staying with the ASC sisters.
“As I learned their interests and as I connected with them by speaking in Portuguese, I felt I needed to do something to help them,” said Viale. During the rest of the spring semester, she visited the center to play with the children and helped find fun events at Newman for them to attend.
“The passage from the school year to the summer was pretty easy and now I volunteer even during the summer. I do it because I feel connected to the kids. Knowing what they have been through breaks my heart and since I am able to communicate with them in their language when English fails, I felt compelled to help. I always think of what I would do if I was in their situation. I really just want them to experience things that all children at their age do.”
Viale said she does not have a specific job but does whatever she can to lend a hand.
“I help all of the children except for the 4-month-old baby and recently I have been helping the parents as well,” she added. “I brought the kids to the park, took some of the kids to summer camp and picked them back up, bring them to events hosted by the Wichita Public Library. I bring some of them to buy essentials they need. … I helped them use their bikes, as well as played hide and seek.
“I mean, a bunch of different things. I occasionally help the sisters by translating things from English to Portuguese and vice versa. I also just started to give English conversation classes to some of the parents.”
Viale said she has seen the value of connecting with these families and the impact it has on them. She has become an older sister figure to the children and someone they can trust. She emphasized, “I feel like it gives them security and stability, something that they had a lack of recently.”
Viale said she has also learned a lot from this experience; especially about patience and parenting.
“It was interesting how I would act like my parents did with me. I would ask them how their day went and I would let them vent to me when they felt sad. I also realized how hard it can be to be a parent. In fact, in our rides from camp and back, I learned how the kids have been and still are bullied. I had to act tough and try to help them as much as possible … my heart was actually in pieces.”
Despite some challenges, Viale said she has made many wonderful memories.
“The most amazing feeling is seeing those nine children run to me every time I enter their bedroom hall or when they see me at the dining table. It means they probably feel the same connection that I feel and it warms my heart to feel that they trust me so much that they run to me every time they can.”
Dania Jumpa began volunteering during the school year as part of her service hours requirement. “I stayed volunteering for the summer because of the children. I have always loved to work with children but it was this group of kids’ love that won me over … and when the older ones kept asking me if I would come back the next week, I hated saying no to them.”
Most of the time, Jumpa works with the 2- to 4-year-olds to prepare them for school.
“Some days I will read books with them, practice letters, dance around, play ball or play in the sandbox. Currently, they are working on learning how to ride bicycles. Overall, my main job is to help the kids by introducing them to basic English words,” she explained. In fact, the children even call her profesora, which means professor in Spanish.
“I have always been taught that the way we treat a child now will impact the future,” Jumpa added. “Everyone has the experience of being a kid and knows that they can remember the people who were kind to them, but more than anything they can never forget the people who were mean to them.
“These children are refugee children and they may have gone through more in their couple years of life than I have gone through in my 20 years. They may not understand everything that has occurred in their life, but they can observe and absorb everything that is in their surroundings. It is essential for me to help these children in any way I can so that they can grow up in a healthy, stable environment and enjoy a normal childhood with emotion and mental health.”
Jumpa may be their profesora, but said she has also been learning.
“I have learned so much about how to work with children and how to listen to them. I have been considering working in pediatric health care, so it allows me to learn techniques and tricks on how to approach them, especially when they are crying. Since they all have different personalities, I also have to observe and determine the best way to talk to each one of them. … It has caused me to take my time and to observe people and figure out how to work with them.
“Children can teach an infinite number of lessons if one takes the time to see them,” she added. “I learn a lot from them, especially the younger ones. They do not have predetermined notions about people; they simply want to play with you. They have taught me to be a less judgmental person.
“My favorite moment from this entire experience has to have been when it was a hot summer day, and the kids had just finished practicing on their bikes. We were all tired, burning and sweating. One of the older girls found the hose and figured out how to work it. The next thing I know, we were all having a water fight. In the end, we were all soaking wet from head to toe. It was an enjoyable time in my stressful life and was the best way to cool down.”
Jumpa also wants to encourage others to find ways to reach out.
“If they ever get the chance to work with children, especially those whose families may have had any difficulty or struggle, they should help in any way they can. It is a humbling experience and makes me think about the things in my life that I should be grateful for.”
Carolina Bianchi first heard about the opportunity to make a difference at the ASC Wichita Center through Newman’s international student adviser, Ami Larrea.
Bianchi stated they were looking for help from Brazilian students to translate for the families from Congo and Angola.
“I offered to be a volunteer not knowing exactly what I would be doing but since then I have been helping the families,” she explained.
Bianchi has worked with the four families that are currently staying at the ASC Wichita Center.
“I have helped all four by translating documents, helping fill out and prepare all of their applications such as asylum, work permit, Social Security, etc. I have accompanied some of them to lawyer appointments to prepare them for their master hearing. One of the families is expecting a baby in August; I have also accompanied her to her doctors and ultrasound appointments,” she added.
“I personally think that the work and the help that the sisters have been providing for them is awesome,” Bianchi said. “You do not usually see this much time and effort put toward helping others, especially immigrants; in their case, asylum seekers. I am amazed at how much help the sisters have given them.
“I am not talking about money; they give these families shelter, food, clothing, doctors, care and lots of love. I am just a little part of this whole pie, more specifically in the communication side. It is important … these families have been through a lot and just being able to have people caring and helping them in a country where they do not know anyone, the language and the culture is huge.”
Bianchi also explained how this experience has impacted her; stating, “just getting to know their stories about how they had to run away from their countries, leaving everything behind to be safe, made me reflect a lot about how I am fortunate about many things. But especially how to be humble.”
In addition, Bianchi said she has had her share of good memories.
“I have experienced quite a few great moments from getting to know their story to playing with the kids. Every time the kids see me, they all yell, ‘Carol,’ and run toward me to give me hugs. It melts my heart every time.”