At last count, the Civil War in Syria has displaced more than 5 million people. Most have fled to neighboring countries like Egypt and Turkey, while others have made their way to European nations in an effort to escape the escalating violence in their home country.
Here in the U.S., the Trump administration has tried to ban Syrian refugees from entering the country. So far, those efforts have failed and people from the beleaguered nation have continued to resettle in the U.S. - like the Hamdoun Family who emigrated to Milwaukee this past September.
The Hamdouns are a family of 13, who started the process of applying for asylum in 2014. Around that same time, a group of alums from Milwaukee’s Holy Angels Academy decided they wanted to help refugees resettle in Wisconsin. The alums reached out to Catholic Charities, and now more than two years later, the group is helping the Hamdouns make their way in America.
"It's all about humanity and people helping people," says volunteer Ann Catalane, who often drives the parents to their English lessons. "That's how almost everybody in the world is in a position right now, because somewhere along the line someone helped them."
After two years of waiting, she says their first meeting at Mitchell International Airport was a very powerful moment. "The Holy Angels girls were at the airport. I brought some flags... and so we all stood there waving these flags and crying, we were all crying. It was such an emotional moment," Catalane explains.
Hussein Hamdoun is sixteen-years-old and the oldest child in the family. He goes to school and has a job, and says he hopes to be a doctor some day. Although he's still learning English, Catalane says he's excelling in his classes.
"Teachers love Hussein," she says. "Actually, all the children. The mom and a translator and two of our group, our Holy Angels group... they all went to the parent teacher conferences together and in particular, Hussein is doing very, very well. But all the children are doing well considering what they've been through."
The group of alums were inspired by Pope Francis to reach out and help refugees resettling in the U.S. The volunteers have been helping the family navigate the city and their new schools, learn English and get out into the community.
"We feel, my Holy Angels girlfriends, feel just privileged to be doing this for our country, for Catholic Charities, for DSHA (Divine Savior Holy Angels High School), for the Hamdoun family, for the world... If everybody felt the way we do, instead of the way Trump and Pence feel, wouldn't we be so much better off," Catalane says.