By Patty Talahongva
A new type of tree now graces the courtyard at The Refuge, a coffee and wine bar located at 4727 N. 7th Ave. that is run under the auspices of Catholic Charities. This “tree of life” is actually a mural created by children who are refugees from several countries. As part of the Unaccompanied Minor Program, they were asked to draw something that represented safety to them.
Anna, a 19-year-old from Congo, drew a flag on top of a mountain. “I carved the mountain I usually hike. This is a way for me to clear my mind and get away from something.”
Thirty years ago, Catholic Charities started taking in dozens of orphans, children who needed a new home and even a new country due mostly to war. Those first kids came from Vietnam; today they come from 30 countries including Afghanistan, Haiti, Liberia, Rwanda and Sudan. Catholic Charities is currently serving 66 kids today.
The tree represents support and nourishment for personal growth and the leaves represent support for the kids through foster families, teachers, counselors and friends. The River of Life in the mural represents healing and new opportunities for adventure and growth. Another tile shows a camera drawn by 18-year-old Adiel from Rwanda.
“I created a camera which means movies … because most of the time when I’m watching movies they really cool me down, because they keep me entertained and for me it seems like a safe place. They make me forget bad things that passed and put me in a good mood so I won’t keep being scared of harm that might come.”
The mural project came together with the help of Elizabeth “Libby” Noble of the nonprofit Free Arts of Arizona. She worked with Nancy Dang, a teacher with the UMP. The result was the mural to celebrate 30 years of service for the UMP and also the one-year anniversary of The Refuge.
“I look at the mural and I see why we, as a program, exist,” says Dang. “Every young person desires to be surrounded by adults that will love and protect them, to help them feel safe and to instill hope for a future. For whatever reason, these children aren’t able to find this in their homelands and they are forced to seek refuge elsewhere.”
Perhaps 19-year-old Paul from Ecuador sums up the project best saying the island with a palm tree he painted shows how he is far away from the bad choices he faced in his homelands. Now he’s in a place where people want to help him, and he feels safe. “This place has changed me into a better person with positive ideas to build my future. They became my family. The little island is Catholic Charities.”
Catholic Charities works with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops and the Office of Refugee Resettlement to identify and bring children to the United States, explains Aileen Moore, senior program manager with Catholic Charities.
“Through the support of these organizations, we have the privilege to work with these children. All of the children who come to us do not have a parent or guardian to care for them when they enter the United States.”
For this reason, Catholic Charities is always looking for foster families. For information, visit www.catholiccharitiesaz.org or call 602-285-1999. Iliana Rodriguez and Diana Stickney handle international children.