Refugees Feel at Home in Maryland Apartment Complex

15 June, 2017

If you ask a child playing outside at the Parkview Gardens apartment complex in Riverdale, Maryland where he or she is from, you will get many different answers.

The children will name Nepal, Nigeria and Afghanistan, among others, as their homelands.

But they are all settling in and adding to the diversity of the community, only about 30 minutes from Washington, D.C.

Parkview Gardens welcomes newcomers to the United States and has many former refugees working on the staff.
Parkview Gardens welcomes newcomers to the United States and has many former refugees working on the staff.

For many, the apartment complex is their first permanent home after many years of living in refugee camps and temporary housing.

Sharif Ali Shafi is an American. He lives in the Parkview Gardens complex, too. He enjoys hearing the different languages, seeing colorful clothing and smelling unique foods.

"I see the little kids playing. I think it's great," he said.

How did so many refugees settle in one place?

Credit goes to David Mendick. He is the manager of the complex. When the organization Catholic Charities asked if he would be willing to accept refugees as residents, he agreed to help.

Mendick was sympathetic. He had resettled multiple times himself. He lived in England and Israel before coming to the United States.

Since then, he has worked with other agencies looking for refugee housing.

Mendick said finding a place to live is not easy for refugees. The charities that help find housing often get turned away at other apartment complexes.

"Nobody has been willing to do it," Mendick said. "So we continue to do it."

And, Mendick said, the decision to accept refugees has been a good one. He said the new residents are glad to keep their homes in good condition after many years without a place to call their own. They also pay their rent on time.

Since the refugees are such good tenants, Parkview makes an effort to help them settle into life in the United States.

One apartment has been turned into a classroom for residents trying to learn English. Other residents get jobs working for the complex.

"They bring so much to our company, so much diversity and so much talent. And in fact, now the upper management in this company is primarily refugee."

One of the property managers is Zemi Shabiu. She was a refugee 18 years ago when she moved to the U.S. to escape the war in Kosovo.

"When they first come they all seem lost. For me it's very easy to say, you know what? Please do feel comfortable because I was in your shoes, you know? So I understand what you're going through."

Two residents say they are working to be comfortable in the U.S. after a long time living in refugee camps overseas.

Maan Alachawinnu and his family left Iraq and spent 10 years in a camp in Jordan. He said ISIS and militias made having a good life there hard.

Mukti Raj Gurung is from Bhutan. He spent almost 20 years living in a camp in Nepal.

He said his is glad to be in the U.S., where he is trying "his level best" to get into "the mainstream of this country."

I'm Dan Friedell.

June Soh wrote this story for VOANews. Dan Friedell adapted her report for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

Where do refugees in your country live? We want to know. Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

complex – n. a group of buildings located near each other and used for a particular purpose

diversity – n. the quality or state of having many different forms, types or ideas

unique – adj. very special or unusual

sympathetic – n. feeling or showing concern about someone who is in a bad situation : having or showing feelings of sympathy

charity – n. an organization that helps people who are poor or sick

rent – n. money that you pay in return for being able to use property that belongs to someone else

tenant – n. a person, business or group that pays to use another person's property

management – n. the people who make decisions about a business

comfortable – adj. allowing you to be relaxed : causing no worries, difficulty, or uncertainty

the mainstream – n. the thoughts, beliefs, and choices that are accepted by the largest number of people