Creating abundant life and flourishing communities grows with meaningful, mutual friendships. It was this desire to connect with Refugees and see them thrive that created Friends of Refugees in 1995. Even in the midst of our programming to equip New Americans, we never want to lose sight of human connection.
It’s one of the reasons why we embed opportunities to form friendships in each of our programs, too. We love seeing two people hit it off!
Merry Pai and Megan are two such friends who met through Friends of Refugees. We sat down with them recently to hear about what they’ve learned from each other and the ways they’ve helped each other flourish over the years.
Friends of Refugees: Thank you so much for doing this! First, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Megan: I grew up in metro Atlanta and had a very comfortable upbringing. I had access to a good education and everything I ever needed. I felt like I belonged; I didn’t know what it felt like to be an outsider. After I went to college, something in me wanted to seek more and go beyond my comfort level. I moved to Japan for a couple of years to teach English. That’s where I saw that the world was really different for everyone and that everyone has a different background. It also showed me what it was like living in a strange place and being a foreigner. This is why I got involved with Friends of Refugees when I got back – I wanted to come alongside people who were having that experience.
Merry Pai: I am originally from Myanmar, but I lived in Malaysia for many years, which is where I got my Refugee status. I have lived close to Clarkston for about 5 years. I have 3 kids, and I first became involved with Friends of Refugees through the Embrace program. I attended when I was pregnant, and I became an interpreter for them soon afterward. Embrace is also how I met Megan!
FOR: Wow! Tell us more about how you met.
Merry Pai: Embrace organized a trip to the zoo for moms and their kids. When we went, the staff gave us our tickets and said that a friend from the program would get matched with us for the day. I didn’t know who was going to pair up with us, but soon Megan came over and said hello. She was so friendly!
Megan: I remember going to that event thinking, “I’m going to meet somebody with a kid my age and connect with them.” So when I saw you, I just stuck with you! We even had lunch together that day – you shared your traditional noodles and they were delicious. When we left, I didn’t have your phone number. I had to ask a Friends of Refugees staff member for it, and then I texted you!
Merry Pai: [laughing] I remember.
FOR: That’s great! What are some ways you’ve grown closer or kept your friendship strong over the years?
Megan: Merry is an incredibly faithful friend. She has taught me the power of consistency. I regularly get texts from her telling us that she prayed for us or checking in to see how I’m doing. In the midst of life, when it’s easy for me to get busy, it’s humbling to receive her friendship and support.
Merry Pai: Prayer is one important way I stay connected to Megan and to everyone I care about. If I remember a family member or a friend like Megan, I pray for them. Even if we are far away, it’s one way I can stay in contact with them. It comes from my faith, which is very important to me, because I wouldn’t be here without faith. My family started our life here on the bottom, with nothing. Faith is what kept us going.
Megan: I think that piece has been especially important during the pandemic when it has been harder to see people as regularly. In the past, we have really gotten to knit our families together through regular outings and holidays. We’ve gone to get books for our kids together or just met up at a park. Merry’s family always comes to my neighborhood for Halloween to go trick-or-treating!
Merry Pai: My kids love Halloween. In Clarkston, it’s so easy for Refugees to live separately from broader American culture, even though we have heard stories about it. When I got to Megan’s neighborhood for Halloweeen it felt like, “oh, this is like a real version of what I see Americans do in the movies.” It made our worlds seem less separate.
FOR: That’s such a good reminder, that just because New Americans and legacy Americans may live close together doesn’t mean that they’re integrating or getting to know each other. You two are a perfect example of putting those worlds together. What advice would you give to others who want to create friendships like yours?
Megan: I would say just get started and keep it simple. If you have kids, find a local playground because kids just want to play together. Take initiative. If it’s in your heart, reach out and make a connection.
Merry Pai: Yes, Megan has done that so well. I also like that Megan introduced my family to her friends and neighbors. When we come to gatherings at her house, she introduces us to make us feel included and safe. I think that is important. The other thing I would say is to remind people like Megan that what we have is very unusual. Most of my other friends who are Refugees don’t have a friend like Megan. What that means is if I have a question about something in the US, like school or the doctor or anything, I can ask Megan. Her answer helps my whole community. Others come to me and ask me questions because they know I can ask Megan. It helps us feel like part of the community, like we know what’s going on outside of our immediate neighborhood.
Megan: Yes, what that reminds me is that every time we reach out to a New American, it has a ripple effect. If I tell Merry something, if I connect her to any resources, she uses it to help dozens more people. It’s not hard, but it makes a huge difference.
FOR: You both are such inspiring women, and your friendship is a model for us all. Thank you for taking the time to share with us. We can’t wait to see you all again!