Fairchild Airman takes refugee under wing

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mackenzie Richardson
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Every year the United States accepts approximately 50,000 to 70,000 refugees. This year alone, Spokane, Washington has accepted close to 500 refugees from nations all over the world to include countries like Syria, Uganda and Afghanistan. Many of these refugees come to the U.S. with little to no possessions, no English speaking abilities and no friends or family.

One way Staff Sgt. Ken Chudoba, 92nd Maintenance Squadron munitions flight accountability technician, is giving back is by taking refugees under his wing. Chudoba volunteers through a private organization called World Relief, which pairs incoming refugees with a volunteer. Chudoba happened to donate a piece of furniture to the organization when its mission caught his eye. He applied to become a volunteer, went through an orientation and within a month, Chudoba was paired with Patrick, a refugee from Kenya, Africa.

Chudoba's eyes light up when he talks about his newest companion. He recalls teaching Patrick how to use an ATM for the first time and Patrick's reaction to the seemingly simple act of pushing a shopping cart through a store.

"He was super serious, like he was a driver behind the wheel of a vehicle," said Chudoba. "He made sure not to bump into anyone, or anything, and kept both hands on the handle at all times."

Patrick is eager to learn about aspects of our culture many Americans take for granted, added Chudoba. The keys to teaching him new skills are patience, determination and improvisation.

"It gives me a great sense of appreciation for the life I have been given," said Chudoba. "It makes me happy to know others are learning the culture I have experienced my entire life."

One of the first lessons Chudoba was ever able to pass on to Patrick was the purpose of a turn signal in a vehicle.

"When I met him, we were reviewing his homework and there was a picture of a shopping mall on one of his assignments," recalled Chudoba. "I asked him if he had ever been to a mall and he shook his head. I suggested we visit one in town. On the car ride over, he became confused many times by a ticking noise in the car. I had to explain to him it was the turn signal. I never thought something so small could generate so much curiosity."

Chudoba dedicates two to four hours of his week teaching English and basic life skills to Patrick. Provided with materials, Chudoba teaches a program called English as a Second Language. A typical class includes plenty of printouts with numbers and words to include verbs and basic reading. A huge focus point for ESL classes is financial planning and teaching refugees how to properly use the U.S. currency. Basic life skills taught include learning how to use a cell phone and how to cook.

Chudoba enjoys finding new and different ways to explain a topic. It's a fun spin on teaching to help grow Patrick's knowledge and his own. When Chudoba volunteered, he made a three-month commitment to the program. After seeing the impact he has had on a refugee's life, he plans on staying until he is no longer needed.

Chudoba can't imagine all the new sights, sounds and experiences Patrick has faced in his short four months living on American soil. Facing numerous challenges on a daily basis in a new environment is difficult, but with the help of a mentor it helps make Patrick's transition a little bit easier.

"We're friends too," said Chudoba. "So it's not just about being a teacher or being a mentor; it's about friendship."

Cultures in many countries focus on community relationships and family relationships. Chudoba says one of the hardest parts of any refugee's transition into American culture is accepting the differences in relationships. They face a lot of challenges when coming to America, but having a volunteer and mentor is extremely beneficial to them.

Patrick spent seven years in a refugee camp in Kenya. He lived without running water, electricity and only had bare essentials for food. Chudoba says Patrick appreciates the opportunities available to him; however, it has been a very big change since arriving here in July. Patrick is grateful for the life America has given to him thus far. He says things are good here in America when life in Africa was not.

"I realized [helping refugees] is an important part of me," said Chudoba. "I have a desire to help others who are less fortunate than myself. I'm empathetic toward their situation and I realize how hard it must be for them to come here and not know anyone or anything. Volunteering with refugees is very rewarding."

Airmen like Chudoba volunteer their time to ensure the big change isn't a struggle for refugees. Volunteers assist with basic everyday actions like contacting the cell phone company or ensuring their mentee has a ride to work. Volunteers aim to make the transition into America welcoming and as easy as possible.

"Through showing him empathy and compassion, he knows I view him as more than just a refugee I mentor," stated Chudoba. "He is a person with goals and dreams and I will try my hardest to help him succeed with those goals."

Editor's Note: No federal endorsement of World Relief or any other private organization is implied.