“Thank you for your patience with my tardy reply…”
I am loosing count of how many of you may have received this exact first line in an email response from me lately and first off, I want to acknowledge that you also haven’t received a Soft Landing newsletter in your inbox in a while (not that anyone missed another email these days!). It is not because there is nothing to report, but quite the opposite- we have so much going on that I haven’t had a moment to think! And then the amount of things I want to tell you multiplies with every passing week and my brain explodes trying to think of how to fit it all into one letter- Sheesh!
But a few days ago, something happened that I can’t NOT celebrate with as many people as possible! We received the news that the first person in this 5+ year effort to welcome refugees to Missoula again has earned her citizenship! While incredibly impactful for her and what that means for a life full of agency and civic opportunity in her new home, it has been a carrot at the end of the stick for us all at Soft Landing. Just like the celebrations we have with newly licensed drivers, new babies, high school graduates and more, the experience of a new community member becoming a citizen is something that brings us all closer together. We are thrilled and so so excited for her. Congratulations!
Another reason that I have been having trouble getting out correspondence is because I have been a little at loss for words lately. Ok, well, not general words, I don’t know that I have ever lost my ability to prattle on… but specific words around the pace, importance, and sensitivity of our work of “Welcoming” since August 15th and the fall of Kabul have been hard to come by. Missoula has welcomed close to 90 Afghans in the last short few months through the International Rescue Committee. I am sure you can imagine, and I won’t (can’t) go into all of it here, but it has been intense. I have been searching for language around the emotions surrounding this. Really, searching for what to say when people ask, “How’s it going? How does it FEEL to be a part of welcoming Afghan evacuees?” When folks ask, it is easy to say the routine, “We are excited to welcome new Afghan friends!”. As the leader of an organization built on rallying a city around the idea of “Welcome”, it almost feels like my duty to say. But are we really only “excited”? I can’t seem to separate my feelings of how honored, and yes excited, I feel that our community can provide shelter/safety/friendship/insert fuzzy word here, and the knowledge that those feelings of excitement have come at incomprehensible costs to those arriving here.
To have a heart so full of happiness/excitement and horror all at the same time is so incredibly dissonant. I think that must be what it is. To not quite know how to separate feelings of celebration with the horror of what people had to go through to land here- and with almost every family having some degree of family separation- the horror that continues.
I don’t think this is too different from any of the other refugee groups we work with and have been welcoming for the last 5+ years, but maybe with the haste of evacuations, the very real and recent trauma, the US responsibility, and the incredibly visible news cycles- this emotional dissonance just seems more pronounced and has forced me to reckon with it. I know I feel it also in our staff, and- just like COVID- it has helped us to prioritize a workplace that tries a little harder to hold each other closer, check-in more often, hug more, laugh together more. I am busy (as we all are!) and not always good at this, and their grace with me and each other is inspiring. Thank you team, you beautiful humans.
And thank you! Thank you for your grace and trust and understanding that even when correspondence is tardy, we are still out here, working hard at the LONG welcome, that is not always (ever?!) easy to explain.
In love and gratitude,
ED Soft Landing Missoula
Montana Afghan Project
New Afghan arrivals are here with only temporary status and must apply for, and get approved for, asylum to create a path for permanent residence. Seeking asylum is a LONG and often EXPENSIVE process. A generous group of lawyers and law students have gathered from around the state to do countless hours of pro bono work with Afghan evacuees to ensure that they can safely and legally remain in their new home.
To learn more about this incredible effort and how to support essential translation costs through the non-profit Respond Crisis Translation check out more info below.
Support Congolese Artists
Beautiful greeting cards with original art by local Congolese artists are now available for sale at our office- 939 Stephens.
Cards are sold as packets of 6 cards featuring three designs by Moses Bushiri and Lorenzo Mugandozi and are available for $20 per packet.
You can learn more about the artists and their recent cultural event “We are Congo” that showcased fashion, dance, music, and poetry below.
These make great Valentines Day gifts… Just sayin’…
Pictured here is our Loren. Yup. He’s ours and no one else can have him- ever! Loren is not just a SUPER volunteer, but a SUPER-DUPER volunteer! You may have noticed him in almost every picture ever taken by us- helping students, aspiring new drivers, and anyone else that comes in with a question when he happens to be at the office (where he comes most every day at some point!) It feels like this one man magnifies the capacity of our resource center to serve clients by 100. He is truly super (super-duper?) human.
Loren- We love you. I know you may want to do another Peace Corps stint some time, but please never leave us 😉