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Friendship Beyond Borders: Volunteering with Refugees

At one of the first meetings between two couples, Louisville-based volunteers Kate Bulinski and Ned Berghausen and recently-arrived KRM clients Francine Djabaa and Godefroid Bomay, they bonded over wedding photos and stories. The two couples come from different backgrounds, separate continents. They met in Louisville a few months ago through KRM’s Cultural Exchange program. “We didn’t know anybody,” Godefroid says. He and his family arrived in Louisville in December 2015. Although they thought they knew no one here, they soon reconnected with friends, also refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that they knew from their years living in Kampala, Uganda. The family’s network continues to grow as they attend English classes, start work, and meet others in Louisville. Some new friends they did not expect to meet include Kate and Ned.

Francine and Godefroid

Godefroid and Francine, husband and wife, arrived in the United States in 2015.

Once a week for three months, the couples spent time together, playing games and getting to know each other. “They brought maps and showed us where they’re from, and we showed them where we are from,” says Francine. At first, Kate says, they felt unsure and didn’t know what to expect from the Cultural Exchange opportunity. “What we wanted was to get to know people,” she says. At their first meeting, they were joined by a KRM representative and an interpreter. Afterwards, “We had no trouble communicating the basics,” she says, citing the family’s growing English abilities. Even though Kate says she and her husband felt stressed sometimes when trying to make time to visit their new friends, Kate says that their concerns disappeared as soon as they got to Francine and Godefroid’s house. “They are vulnerable, putting themselves out there,” she adds. “They have a fear of not communicating well. They feel that uncertainty too.”

Together, the couples made trips to the grocery store and a local park, making meals and playing outside with the children. One day, Ned, a Tae Kwon Do instructor, taught the kids moves and even lent them uniforms to wear. “They are very exceptional!” Godefroid says of Kate and Ned. “They make us laugh every time.”

Ned and Kate, pictured here in Peru, volunteered through KRM's Cultural Exchange program.

Ned and Kate, pictured here in Peru, volunteered through KRM’s Cultural Exchange program.

Kate and Ned were inspired to get involved with KRM in late 2015. “We heard the rhetoric in the media that was negative against immigrants and refugees,” Kate says. The couple has friends who were former refugees and they have also traveled to Guatemala, India, and Peru. Ned served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bangladesh. Kate is a professor of environmental science and geology at Bellarmine University, and Ned is a theology teacher at Mercy Academy. “It was hectic, but it was worth it,” Kate says. “No one really has the time, but you make time. For us, it’s about setting priorities and taking risks.”

Francine and Godefroid pose with their family outside of their Louisville, Kentucky, apartment.

Francine and Godefroid pose with their family outside of their Louisville, Kentucky, apartment.

Their schedules became even busier when the children went to school and family members began work. Godefroid has been working for over three months at Dri-View Distribution, moving from part-time to full-time work in picking and packing. “They are always on the go!” Kate says. “They have so many appointments to manage.” Still, the two couples met weekly. “They are a good couple, good people,” Francine says of Kate and Ned. She shares how she and Godefroid were thrilled to learn that their new friends are expecting their first child. “We are friends. More than friends,” Godefroid adds. “We are going to continue to visit each other.”