Coming To Bedlam: Brother Francis
I met for several hours in Albany today with Brother Francis Rengabo, he spent 11 years in a Ugandan refugee camp before the United Nations helped him get to America. He is the director of operations at RISSE, the refugee and immigration support center for New York's Capital Region.
We formalized an ongoing relationship with Bedlam Farm that will begin with bringing 100 refugee children – the entire after school and day care class at RISSE to Bedlam Farm over the summer. Starting in July, 14 kids and teachers will come to the farm every Tuesday and Thursday.
The children and their teachers will come in groups of 10 to 14, we have to get all of them here over a six or seven week period.
They will watch Red and Fate work, meet the donkeys, learn about sheep, meet some farmers, get some pizza from the Round House Cafe, see Ed Gulley's amazing dairy farm. Maria and I pleaded for this opportunity, we are eager to meet them and show them our world. Many of these children have grown up in refugee camps, sometimes for their whole lives, and they have seen some awful things.
We are excited to be hosting them in different groups, Ali will be driving them on their Tuesday and Thursday visits. We are not charging them and RISSE will pay for their transportation costs. We will work out some deal with the Round House for the pizza – many of these kids have never had pizza or seen one.
I will walk about writing, Maria will talk about her art, and we will invite some of the talented people in our town to come and talka about their work. I might bring some of them to the Mansion.
I was telling them about sheepherding and they were mystified, several of the children confided in me that they eat dogs where they came from and hope my dogs will not be eaten after the demonstrations. I promised them that would not happen. There are very few countries in the world where people could or would spend thousands of dollars on dogs and their health.
Brother Francis agreed to arrange interviews and photographs and home visits for some of the refugees – I met my first Syrian children today, their stories are harrowing – so I can try to tell the truth about them and the refugee and immigrant experience.
I agreed to help them with some fund raising projects. They want to put on an end-of-school carnival for the summer school, they hope to rent some jumping and bouncing equipment. I said I would try to help. Brother Francis said RISSE will be setting up two special Paypal accounts – one for the soccer team and the other for RISSE itself.
Hundreds of you have messaged or mailed me asking how you can help these refugees and this way, you can donate money directly to them without passing it through me, and I will be glad not to have to keep track of it all. I will keep you posted on what is needed, you can follow that on the blog.
You can choose the projects you care to support, or not support any at all. Your support has already made a difference. I have been raising money for the Saturday Soccer Team trips to the beach and state parks. Thanks for helping, we are halfway there.
RISSE is struggling, they need a lot of help, and they do an astounding amount of good. I am committed to doing all I can to help them, especially the children, including finding private tutors for them and doing some teaching myself.
Ali (Amjad Abdullah Mohammed) will be driving them. The visits to Bedlam Farm connect us to the refugee experience in very direct ways, and I have been working hard to make this connection. I will honor it and try to do some good. Ali wants to take me home to Egypt with him later this year to meet his fiance and family, I'm not sure that will work. I'd love to go.
it will take a few days to set up the Paypal accounts, but you can always donate through the website if you wish. I thank the dozens of people who send Ali messages after his car crash, he was shocked and delighted. He said he thinks I am a wizard of some kind. He is one of the most loving and empathetic man I have ever known, his devotion to his kids is remarkable.
Connecting with the refugees is the longest negotiation I have had in my long life, I have been working on it since November. there is great fear and caution surrounding the refugees, I was asked to reassure a lot of people about my intentions. One teacher wanted to read my blog for a month before she was sure I was okay. (She loves Red and Maria).
I can photograph anyone I wish with their permission. I am touched to meet all of the volunteers who are helping at RISSE.
I am also going to focus on the soccer team, a loving and impressive group of young men. They don't need much, just some occasional birthday gifts and cake and hot dogs. They need encouragement and support, I am going to see them in Williamstown, Mass. this coming weekend for one of their first games.