HOUSTON — Refugees are people who have been forced from their homes often because of war, violence, or in Noel's case, persecution.
“Why I fled from my country is they confiscated our land," explained Noel.
Houston continues to be a leader in refugee resettlement.
“In 2018, Houston saw just over 1,000 individual refugees and SIVs, Special Immigrant Visa holders. In 2016, 2017 leading up to that, we were seeing between two and three thousand individuals per year," Executive Director Molly Raney of Houston Welcomes Refugees said.
Noel and his family fled Myanmar in 2008, and after spending time in Thailand and Malaysia, they made Houston their home in March of 2019.
Their story is not uncommon. Often, refugees spend years in resettlement camps before actually getting to call somewhere home. Then, once they land in a new city, learning how to navigate day-to-day life can be difficult, so that’s where volunteers with Houston Welcomes Refugees step in.
“We have volunteers who unpack all of the welcome kits, who provide groceries, who provide a hot meal for the family. We also have volunteer teams who make a six-month commitment to the families, helping them learn how to navigate their new life," explained Raney.
That can mean helping them find jobs and teaching them how to use the public transportation system, but most importantly, it means being a friend.
“They treat us like friends and brothers and sisters, so I feel very great," said Noel.
“The families recognize that there’s an anti-immigration climate and it doesn’t differentiate between legal and illegal immigration," explained Houston Welcomes Refugees volunteer Bobby Eads. "The joy that you see in the families’ eyes when we come and just become friends with them, they just love that.”
These relationships aren’t one-sided, either. Hope Whitney, one of the volunteers helping Noel and his family, explained she has enjoyed getting to know and learn from Noel's wife, Gladys.
“One thing that has been really fun is that Gladys is trying to teach me a little Burmese,” she said.
The hope is that these relationships become lifelong friendships.
”All of us, if we truly live out loving our neighbors as ourselves, can change the world, just one person at a time," explained Whitney.
With the help of Houston Welcomes Refugees, Noel has found a job and his older two children have started school.
Houston Welcomes Refugees has space for new welcome team members and is in need of volunteers to help fill welcome kits. For more information on how you can help, click here to visit their website.