Refugee Stories: Giving & Receiving

In the past week, I have enjoyed 2 recent interactions with refugees who immigrated to Madison that reminded me how important it is to assist new refugees and how eager they are to give back to their host country.

In the first situation, I was contacted by my old friend Andy Heidt, a former City of Madison Alder, who now runs the Bayview Foundation. As set forth on its website:

The Bayview Foundation’s guiding purpose is to facilitate families as they meet their needs, realize their dreams and make contributions to the community. Together, Bayview Foundation and Bayview Townhouse residents created a people proven model of successful, dynamic cooperation that works. The mission of Bayview Foundation is to provide housing, human service, arts appreciation and cultural awareness.

Andy put out a call seeking a lawyer to provide pro bono assistance for a Hmong immigrant mother and daughter because the daughter’s citizenship papers mistakenly listed her year of birth 4 years early which was causing problems with age related issues such as school enrollment. Working with a translator, I drafted an affidavit for her mother to sign in order to verify her daughter’s actual date of birth. After she signed the affidavit and expressed her thanks to me, Andy proceeded to give me a tour of Bayview’s affordable housing where many Hmong immigrants live. I am glad to see that Andy is continuing the good work he has done for many years and was pleased to help out one of his residents in my own small way.

A few days later, my wife and I were on the receiving end of assistance from a Laotian refugee who has become our friend.  Thongpone owns Sala Thaia lovely local restaurant that my wife and I have enjoyed eating at for many years. Mutual friends live just a few doors down from the restaurant and introduced us to Thongpone a few years ago. When Thongpone heard from our friend that my wife was home recuperating from a recent surgery, she volunteered to bring over some Laotian & Thai comfort food for lunch. Her gracious generosity was greatly appreciated by both my wife and I. As we sat together eating her delicious food, we marveled as she shared the story  of her amazing journey from Laos to a refugee camp in Thailand which led to her eventually becoming a successful and generous restauranteur, and now our friend, in Madison.

sala thai

As the Vietnam war was winding down, Thongpone fled an unstable Laos and sought refuge in a Thai refugee camp where life was very difficult. When she was eventually approved to immigrate to the United States, the original plan was to place her in Montana, where she knew no one. Fortunately, however, while in the refugee camp, she had met the owner of another lovely Madison restaurant, Lao Laan-Xangwho agreed to sponsor her in Madison.

That’s what refugees do. They help each other. That’s what good people do. We help each other. Our nation, our community, our neighborhoods are all made great when we help each other. I was fortunate to be on both the giving and receiving end in the past week and I look forward to many more opportunities in the future to give and receive both to and from former, current and future refugees, whom I welcome into my life. Together, we are stronger.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


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