- Cheryl Behrent & Mariah Scheuermann
This Sarah's resident story is about an African woman we will call Amare, which means "love."
The focus of Amare’s childhood was her education. It was normal and expected in her African home country for girls to go to school. Amare counts herself fortunate enough to have come from a middle class family that could afford a home, enough food, and to send her to school through college.
It wasn’t until Amare reached adulthood that she realized it was no longer safe for women and girls. Being an educated and responsible citizen wasn’t enough; her country’s government increasingly demanded compliance on issues Amare didn’t support. She knew she needed to mind her words carefully to be safe when the people around her were being arrested or worse for voicing their criticisms.
Amare was fearful she would lose her position as she witnessed colleagues and family members fall into poverty after losing their jobs. There were no government resources for the unemployed, and it became difficult for people to access healthcare. Amare felt stuck. She felt compassion for those who were without what they needed, but helping people to get food, housing, or healthcare was taken as a stance against the government.
Realizing she was in danger, Amare started exploring the possibility of escaping her country. Her hope was to find a place to live in peace without concealing her values out of fear of retaliation from government powers. She connected with a relative in Minnesota, and they agreed to receive her on the condition that they could only house her for a limited amount of time. Because they understood she was in danger, they quickly agreed to take her into their home. Amare managed to escape.
Amare describes the fear of uncertainty she felt as she traveled to the U.S. As an organized person, it was scary to not have her future mapped out beyond her temporary living arrangement. To soothe her concerns, she reminded herself that she was safely away from her home country. If she had stayed, she would have been in certain peril.
Amare arrived safely in Minnesota. Despite being related, she was not familiar with the family who agreed to take her in. Upon arrival she realized they saw her as a burden. It’s not uncommon for hosting families to believe two weeks is long enough for newcomers to get settled and into a place of their own. The pressure to leave was unbearable.
A service organization thankfully knew about Sarah’s, as no other place was available for Amare to move into. Knowing Amare could come to Sarah’s when the room was ready, the family relaxed their pressures.
But moving out of her relatives' home wasn’t the end of their conflict. It took Amare over a year after moving into Sarah’s to be approved to work and find a job. The financial burden of paying back her relatives weighed heavily on her as they didn’t understand the delays she faced. Shortly after securing a job, COVID hit. Amare was impacted similarly to other Sarah’s residents. With COVID she had fewer hours and less pay. She was barely able to cover her own expenses let alone pay back the loans. The constant stress of being in debt to people who were impatient with her added to the stress of a looming pandemic.
With community and connection essential to the operations at Sarah’s, quarantine and safety protocols also impacted the emotional health of the residents. The isolation COVID required enabled Amare to dwell on the hardships she faced in her home country. Sarah’s embraced technology to help ease the transition to a COVID aware community. Face-to-face meetings were largely replaced with video meetings while still providing resources and care to the residents.
Amare utilized this time to develop a new skill and go beyond Sarah’s expectations of support and responsibilities. While having had no sewing experience before moving to the U.S., Amare has become Sarah’s sewing expert. All of the curtains and rags in Sarah’s were sewed by Amare. She also makes alterations to her co-resident’s clothing when needed.
As an integral member of Sarah’s community, Amare says that the only thing she misses is her family, otherwise she is covered 360 degrees. Amare says, “It feels safe beyond being told you are safe. [Sarah’s] gave my life new birth. I lost hope in uncertainty. At Sarah’s, I feel hope, peace, and love. It’s a real opportunity to be here.”
Both Amare and Sarah’s have come through the thick of isolation and uncertainty COVID brought. Sarah’s is happy to begin establishing its new post-pandemic normal. Mask mandates have been lifted and in-person events like house meetings have resumed. Sarah’s building, designed for community, is able to be utilized to its full potential again. Amare likewise has plans for the future. While she continues working as a seamstress with an established company, she is building the skills and client base to start her own business.
Amare attributes the attainability of her goals to Sarah’s. She would tell donors that “staff are doing a tremendous job, touching, transforming, shaping, weaving, and giving life. Living at Sarah’s, hope is restored, and permits me to live towards dreams. Compassion is not only like you feel it, it is demonstrated. Love is demonstrated. Staff are full of commitment, time, and resources, mending lives that were shattered or destroyed, doing life-saving work filled with love and support. The depth of love at Sarah’s is so deep, I am wondering sometimes am I dreaming or this is really happening?”
Amare exemplifies the responsibility and strength Sarah’s wishes to foster in all their residents. Even through unexpected hardships like those the pandemic brought, Sarah’s and their residents find a way to not just survive, but prosper.