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    For as long as anyone can remember, Kentucky Refugee Ministries has been hosting a Thanksgiving lunch for its clients. For most of these refugees, it is their first expirience with the American holiday - for some of them, it's the first time they've even heard of Thanksgiving. was able to speak to some of these new Louisvillians about their first Thanksgivings.


    ​Rayner and Lidia | Refugees from Cuba, in Louisville 1 month

    This couple came from Cuba as part of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPP). The program was launched in 2006 to allow medical professionals from Cuba, who had been conscripted to work or study in a third country, to enter the US as refugees.
    "We don't have [Thanksgiving] in Cuba... It's nice to see all of these people united and sharing for Thanksgiving. I know that they have Thanksgiving in many cultures, but it's so nice to see all these people united."


    ​Antigona | Refugee from Kosovo, in Louisville 17 years | Employment Services Manager at KRM

    "I remember just like it was today. Honestly, I knew what [Thanksgiving] was — I had an idea. The first time I was introduced, I was like 'Oh, Thanksgiving! We have to bring a dish and whatever.' We went to my [refugee] sponsor's home and everyone was gathered. All this new food that I'd never tried before. We'd had turkey, but we didn't eat it as much [in Kosovo], and just some weird greens that we were like, 'I'm not gonna try this, this is so different.' But, what I got out of it, it was like everyone was getting together — no matter who you were, you were still part of that family. That's something I appreciated the most. You know, I came from a war-torn country. I didn't have everyone sitting down to dinner, I wasn't used to that. That was an eye-opener to me, just to be able to sit down, everyone included, and just be thankful for one another. Oftentimes, you don't do that, and there's a lot to be thankful for — things we take for granted. I learned that there, and ever since, I've tried to thank God for this time. I was given that... We took that tradition into our family, and we do [Thanksgiving] in our home, too."


    Zena | Refugee from Iraq, in Louisville 4 months | Volunteer interpreter at KRM

    "I have a background about Thanksgiving, what it is - turkey is the main dish - and what American people celebrate at this event. I have a background because I have American friends... In Iraq we have Bajram. After Ramadan, we fast for 30 days and then, when we break this fast, we celebrate for three days. After Eid al-Fitr you can eat. We have some main dishes, some sweets (like cookies)... I like these events because I like to be with the others. I can communicate with the other [refugees], I can be part of this community, so I like this so much."

    As for Louisville, "The people here are very kind, especially in KRM. They're always helping me, supporting me, advising me. It makes coming here easier — I thought I would face many [more] difficulties, but here they make it very easy for me. I feel so fortunate, for me, my family, everything. My husband has a new job, my children are in school and I'm here with KRM staff.


    ​Gulalai | Refugee from Pakistan, in Louisville 4 years | KRM Special Medical Needs Case Worker

    On her life as a doctor, she says, "That was way before." Now, Gulalai heads up medical for KRM, helping those who come to Louisville with pre-existing illness, as well as those who become sick after getting here. On her first Thanksgiving in Louisville, she says: 
    "My first Thanksgiving, I spent at the house of somebody I knew. She was a doctor for 16 years in Pakistan. Then she moved here. So, I spent my first Thanksgiving with them... They were part of the Presbyterian church, who sent groups to Pakistan - they still do [Ed: The church sends missions to Pakistan, setting up hospitals and clinics all over the region. Many of those hospitals still function, but most of the Americans who were working there have left Pakistan]. Their kids had grown up there, and for them Pakistan was home. Somebody introduced me to her, and two months later was Thanksgiving. She said, 'You must spend Thanksgiving with us.' I remember the food was very unusual for us. I cooked some of my own food and brought it— her kids were excited about the Pakistani food, and to us the [other] food was brand new. She told me what time to come in the morning, and I came and watched her cook all this fancy food - sweet potatoes and turkey and cranberry sauces. It was unusual because I didn't know what any of it was, but it was a good education for me. And I didn't know what Thanksgiving was about - I knew what the literature said - but her husband was a priest, so it was a very religious affair. All of her family was there, a huge family function... For me, really, [Thanksgiving is] the idea of giving back to strangers. She brought us into her home, took in strangers, and that really sealed the deal for us."


    Shadi and Hanadi | Refugees from Syria, 3 months

    Through an interpreter, Shadi and Hanadi told me that their time so far in Louisville had been good. About Thanksgiving, they said they like the idea of the event, thanking the people who help and support you, But for the couple, being thankful isn't limited to one day of the year. "We thank God all the time. We thank Him for the gifts he's given us and thank the other for supporting us, for their help. We thank everyone all the time."  

    Shadi will begin working at his first job this week.


    José, age 62 | Refugee from Cuba, in Louisville 2 years, 3 months 

    José and I had a language barrier - he doesn't speak much English and any Spanish I learned in high school inconveniently left my head upon meeting him. We spoke a little — he came to Louisville by way of Miami after leaving Cuba over two years ago — and we left it with one thing: "I love you," he told me. "I love you for you and I love you for me."

    KRM not only hosted a Thanksgiving lunch, but also hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in partnership with El Camino.

    If you'd like to help refugees coming into the area, you can donate household goods, furniture, clothes and anything else you think would be helpful to both KRM and Catholic Charities. These two organizations provide services in housing, employment, ESL, cultural orientation, legal aid, and much more to all refugees being settled in Louisville and Lexington. Donate to KRM here. Donate to Catholic Charities here. If you'd like to be a volunteer, you can find more information on their websites.

    Michelle Eigenheer's picture

    About Michelle Eigenheer

    A Louisville transplant beginning to appreciate all the city's small things.

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