A client of Refugee Assistance & Immigration Services made a special trip to the Welcome Center to talk about her role as a Peer Leader Navigator within the Anchorage refugee community.  Marie Claire sat down and pulled out a couple binders, placing them on a desk in front of her.

She is a nurse from Rwanda but had to flee with her family to the Congo.  While they were there, Marie Claire worked for the International Rescue Committee, a position she held for about six years.  During that time, they completed the U.S. Department of State screenings and interviews to receive permission to come to America as refugees.  Learn more about that process.

She flipped through a binder to find her contracts and job responsibilities for those appointments, filed behind her original diplomas and certificates.  Some were hole-punched; others were slid into plastic sleeves.  They were all in French, one of Marie Claire’s primary languages, but unmistakably signed and dated with a pen.

As she turned the pages, she said, “I keep this sometimes to remember.”  Marie Claire’s voice revealed both a sense of pride and a sort of acceptance about what she’s gone through.

These papers must be kept out of necessity.  We may take for granted that we can save our accomplishments on a hard drive or the cloud to retrieve and disseminate, when necessary.  But wanting proof of your life on paper, in your hands, seems to be common among the refugee community.

Marie Claire’s been in Alaska for three years now.  Refugee Assistance & Immigration Service, the only resettlement agency in Alaska, was assigned her family as clients by the Department of State, and they have been there for Marie Claire’s family every step of the way.  But staff is quick to say that Marie Claire, like all their clients, is resilient and took the steps she needed to succeed.  That’s certainly indisputable with Marie Claire.  You can volunteer to support refugee families too!

Since she arrived, she’s had to make another binder to hold all her new certificates, which she presented.  She started by studying English at Nine Star.  She revealed that certificate next.  She said it allowed her to go on and get a diploma from the Adult Learning Center, which opened the door to other opportunities.  As Marie Claire worked as a housekeeper, she continued her education by taking classes to become a Personal Care Assistant, a Certified Nurse Assistant, and, most recently, a Peer Leader Navigator.

“And when I passed them all, they knew my capability!” Marie Claire exclaimed.  “That’s when my teacher suggested to me to help her teach.”

Now she teaches about six people every Tuesday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., usually on topics related to personal health and hygiene.

She leafed through a few more pages, laughing, and said, “So many classes!”

Marie Claire is so committed to this cause that she goes door-to-door talk with her neighbors. “If I get new information, I ask if they have time and if I can come in,” she said.  “I like to work with my community.” She repeated this sentence verbatim, adding emphasis.

Her optimism, persistence, and care for others are palpable, and Anchorage is lucky to have her.

“I believe life can change,” she said, closing her binders and returning them to her bag.  “When I see where I’ve come from and here I am, big difference.  If you cross your arms, like this,” she folded them across her chest, “you will never improve.  But if you believe life can change, then the future is in your hands.  Maybe the first time you fail.  But that means the second and third time, you can succeed.”

If anyone knows how true these statements are, it’s Marie Claire.

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