Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Has it only been one week since Makandja arrived in Chicago?

How can it be only a week since Makandja arrived?  There is so much to report and if you missed Makanja's welcome you can read it here

One of the most encouraging facts to report is that Makandja has friends from the refugee camp in Tanzania who are now in Chicago and who have been here four or five months already. Makanja and his friends were extremely happy to be connected to each other by the translator from JCFS (Jewish Child and Family Services). These friends will be great company and help to Makanja as he navigates his way through our complicated public transit system, food stamps and learning new language skills. 

Studying English with a snack.

There has  been a visit from his case manager at JCFS who brings a translator with her. Her name is Barbara and she will help Makandja to enroll in an English as a second language class (ESL) as well as help to get him food stamps, a medical check up, bus pass and other support necessities. Barbara is a social worker and is well trained to monitor Makandja, and to take responsibility for things we are not trained to do.

We have a core committee of volunteers in place and when Makandja's schedule is set for classes and he has done the things he needs to do to get food stamps etc, we will begin to look for more volunteers who may be interested in joining this core group of volunteers to perhaps become substitutes, alternates, or volunteer partners. 

This week Makandja had a Saturday visit from Jackie Cohen, her husband, Gary and Susan Gottlieb. They taught him how to use his microwave and his hot plate. They brought a runner that will protect his cabinet from the hot plate and toaster oven. They were happy to make this first important visit and to meet some of Makanja's friends from the camp in Tanzania.  They reported that the friends were nice, and that they were making great strides in learning English. 
At the French pastry shop in the neighborhood,
from the Left: Makanja, Barbara, Marcie, Ruti and Lisa

On Tuesday, May 30, Lisa Fisher and Marci Bearman visited Makandja and reviewed the use of appliances. We taught Makanja to use his appliances by supervising as Makanja  cooked the food himself. 

Then Makandja and his friend Ruti worked with us as we taught lessons about the names and values of currency and how to make change, as well as basic language phrases such as "may I have the book" and "I would like to buy water."
We all had lots of laughs and fun with us trying to use google translate and to speak Swahili,  while they tried to use their new English skills.   

We visited local markets, and stopped in for tea, coffee and drinks at a French coffee shop where two amazing women work. Makanja and his friend Ruti speak French as well as Swahili and these woman offered their support, friendship, and their help in case of an emergency.

Then we drove the boys to a grocery store that was better stocked than the neighborhood stores and took a longer walk around Makandja's neighborhood exploring parks and meeting a pastor at a church down the street. We taught Makanja how to look for addresses on buildings as we walked past them, how to read the names on street signs and the meaning of a few traffic signs.

Then, we went back to the apartment where Lisa made more delicious food and with Ruti's help; Marcie addressed an envelope to Makandja's camp in Tanzania and showed him where to put the Universal Forever World Wide Stamp on the envelope. Then we waited while Makanja wrote a long letter home which I took to the post office and mailed this morning. 

Makanja knows how to read and write very well in both French and Swahili and he is an earnest student. I am certain he will make fast progress not only in learning English, but in learning how to conduct himself and share the gifts which are his;  a smiling, friendly personality, which he balances with a serious and sensitive disposition. He is an exceptional young man. 

Exploring the neighborhood 

He has friends from home, and will make many new friends in his neighborhood, but I hope we can find a way to bring Makandja into all of our lives. We are hoping to have a picnic in the park near where he lives this summer with soccer or football as they refer to it and we will let you know the time and place.

But first, the basics necessities need to be taken care of for Makandja,  and we at Lakeside will need to wait to establish a steady schedule of volunteers. Please let Marcie  and Lisa know if you have free days, and what your free days are if you are interested in working with Makanja. If you want to be a volunteer and work with a partner you must fill out a background check from HIAS.  Please email Vanessa: and she will send you the forms.

Makandja could use a friend closer to his age to play soccer with, or a friend to take an adventure by bus or train to somewhere in the city that he would not know of or be comfortable traveling to alone. The possibilities are endless especially once he is more settled. 

We will be happy to share the experience with you with our updates as they come out.  An early Shabbat Shalom and we hope you had a Happy Shavuot.  

Marcie Bearman  and Lisa Fisher

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The long wait is over! A fruitful new chapter has begun; Welcome Makanja

Waiting to welcome Makanja
Last night, Wednesday May 24 Lakeside Congregation welcomed the stranger as Makanja arrived from the Congo.  As a congregation we will be supporting Makanja as he learns to live in Chicago.  

Here is a guest post from Marcie Bearman who was the airport as part of the welcoming committee.  Special thanks to the committee and our members who went to O'hare to welcome Makanja. Thanks to the Bagdade's for taking these pictures!  If you want to volunteer feel free to email me at  At this time we are looking for a simple flat screen TV for Makanja's apartment.

We will keep you updated as Makanja experiences Chicago and we welcome him.  

Guest Post by Marcie Bearman

Makanja arrived!
A group of us waited with signs and much excitement at the baggage carousel area where Makanja was expected until the last bag, Makanja's bag, stood alone.

Makanja had still not found his way to the baggage area and we began to worry in earnest.
And then he came towards us escorted by a few from our group  who found him near an entrance to the baggage area. The  TSA was trying to help him but there was no language that allowed understanding. Then Makanja saw a sign with his name on it and was released to Lakeside members who brought him to the larger group. 

Makanja was clearly exhausted but managed to smile, shake hands and thank each one of us with extreme sincerity. He is a small, thin young man with a  kind face. We all felt an immediate bond and  the desire to help this man gain back his strength and find independence, safety and happiness. 

Our job lies ahead of us, but I do not think there was one person  at the airport tonight who was not willing to meet the challenge. I feel certain that this evening will never be forgotten by Makanja, or any of us.

    Marcie Bearman

Monday, May 22, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger; Lakeside's Refugee Project #1 Post

Pre Moving breakfast, 8:30 am Sunday 
This is the week that we have been waiting for at Lakeside Congregation as we welcome Makanja, a refugee from the Congo to live in Chicago.  We have learned together as a congregation how best to welcome him and I am sure we have more learning ahead of us.   I will start with some of our preparations that began long before he was scheduled to arrive at O'Hare. 

For the better part of the last year we have been working with HIAS to prepare as a congregation to welcome a refugee.  Most refugees coming to the United States spend their life or most of their lives, 17-25 years waiting to get the clearance and visas to immigrate. It is a rigorous process and when  people ask for more "vetting" I don't think that is possible.   In Makanja's case he is 27 years old and has spent his whole in a refugee camp.

Loading the truck
At Lakeside we started by raising funds which will help Makanja pay rent for the first few months he is here.  This is what we know about him:  

On his application it lists “barber” as his occupation. He has been living in a mud hut without doors, without running water or electricity.  We know that he doesn’t speak English, might speak a little French, but Swahili and possibly some Bembe will be the language most likely spoken.

Makanja's new apartment
The new apartment is in Albany park near transportation and classes Makanja will take to learn English. 

On Sunday a group of dedicated volunteers got up early and began to move all of the assembled furniture and goods we have collected for him.  Thank you to the Guttman/Valentine household for not just providing breakfast but also storing furniture for Makanja for many months.  Also special thanks to the Bagdade family for driving the truck, providing muscle power and for all of the organization this took.  Special thanks to Zach Auerbach for getting up early on Sunday morning and adding his muscle power, we couldn't have done it without all of you.  

When Makanja comes from the airport on Wednesday he will have a furnished apartment, a refrigerator full of cooked food, some clothes and other necessities.  Our Refugee committee has worked hard to make this dream come a reality.  We hope to keep you updated as we welcome Makanja to Chicago.  

We will let you know what donations of materials and donations of your time we will need.  We know as a congregation this is the right thing to do and expect that it will not be an easy task.  We will need many different resources to make sure Makanja has a successful transition.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you want to help or Lakeside's office.  Watch for more as we wait expectantly for Makanaja's arrival on Wednesday May 24th.  

(Special thanks as always to Lakeside's social action committee, they are always looking for more volunteers just let us know if you are interested.)

And the Eternal had said to Abram, “Get out from your country, and from your family, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)