My name is Kate Kennedy. I’m a writer and teacher, who, along with several other writers, agreed to volunteer at a local nonprofit that helps recent refugee arrivals to Maine. This would be a short-term commitment--one hour a week for six weeks. That first day I was paired with a young African couple and their toddler son, who are seeking asylum. My task: to record and write up a story, any story, they felt compelled to tell. And so we began.
The story I listened to and wrote down, their asylum story, cannot be repeated here. For the couple’s safety I’m not identifying their country of origin or their names, nor including any photos or videos of them as is customary on GoFundMe. Suffice it to say, the wife, a university graduate, had a good job until things changed drastically. The suffering the whole family endured was horrific.
But it wasn’t only the story of their suffering that drew me to them. It was their open spirits and hope for the future. My husband, Nate Greene, and I now think of them as part of our family--not out of obligation, but because they are loving, bright, and grateful people, amazingly resilient in the face of what life has brought them.
After they fled Africa, they were flown first to Cuba then to South America, where they traveled north by bus and sometimes on foot through dense jungle. Bandits robbed them of what little they carried, rains drenched them, wild animals howled at night. Sometimes they had to ford deep rivers—no bridges or boats--with only a rope to guide them. Once, bees swarmed the baby’s head and stung him so many times he almost died.
Finally, they made it to Mexico. But there, during a massive earthquake near Mexico City, they lost each other. Each thought the other had died amid the rubble and chaos that followed. The husband, who happened to be carrying the baby at the time of the quake, was “paroled” at the US/Mexico border, meaning he had one year to seek asylum in the US. He and the baby stayed with a relative in Texas, hoping that his wife might still be alive.
At last, she too arrived at the US border. Miraculously, the family was reunited several months later. They heard that Portland was a small, safe city in which to work and bring up a family in peace. But according to federal asylum laws, petitioners cannot legally even apply for employment authorization until 150 days after their asylum application is filed.
What can you do? We’re asking for donations to cover the legal fees and expenses needed to seek asylum, as well as for minimal living expenses to help the family survive for the next five months. Whenever we see them, we’re inspired by their eagerness to work and their determination to build new lives for their children. We’re also humbled by their love for each other and for the crazy, violent, beautiful world we share. On their behalf, thank you very much.