CK Marrs, UNO project tells the stories of Bhutanese, Latino refugees to further build friendships
By Adrielle Griffin
Completely KIDS Communications Manager
The respect for each other was obvious despite decades between them. The CK Marrs middle-school youth sat, listened, smiled and even asked questions of their new but elder friends. In some instances, there were language barriers, but just “being” developed a sense of friendship. In other cases, the kids felt connections with the seniors who could relate to the struggles of being in a foreign land.
Youth at CK Marrs recently took part in a service-learning project with University of Nebraska at Omaha students, and Bhutanese and Latino seniors at the Intercultural Senior Center, 2021 U St. Working together, they developed a book about friendship.
A Unique Challenge
Long before UNO or Completely KIDS became involved, however, the challenge of developing friendships among seniors from various countries with different languages was already at play.
Though serving seniors whose primary language is not English since 2009, Carolina Padilla, the Intercultural Senior Center’s director, responded to the need in 2013 for a safe community for refugee seniors who were making Omaha their new home. This meant bringing together under one roof seniors of unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds who spoke only their native languages to develop friendships.
Challenging, yes. But, as Lyn M. Holley, UNO Professor of Gerontology says, “(Carolina) did it. With no common language, there were friendships.”
Friendships developed over food, dancing and crafts in a place that was both welcoming and safe. There was still one problem.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for them to share the stories that friends share?” Lyn said.
The Friendship Book
It was at this point that Padilla, Holley, and the UNO and CK Marrs students came together to make it possible for the seniors to share their stories.
UNO and CK Marrs students interviewed the seniors about their life stories, translated them in English, Spanish and Bhutanese, illustrated the stories and developed The Friendship Book.
Not only did these students share stories between friends, they built new relationships, too. For the Completely KIDS youth, friendships sparked over a common language with some of the seniors, as the native tongue of many of the students is Spanish. An obstacle presented itself with the Bhutanese seniors, but with help from several UNO students who spoke Nepalese, new relationships over a sense of togetherness formed between the youth and Bhutanese elders, too.
Thirteen-year-old Mayela spent time interviewing Eva, a Mexico native.
“My favorite part was being able to find out so much about (Eva) and talk about what others had gone through,” Mayela said. “I don’t think me and her had a lot (in common), but I think her and my parents had a lot, so I kind of knew how she felt. It was cool that someone else felt the same way as my parents.”
Mayela was touched by the emotion that came through Eva’s story and others.
“The most difficult part was when you asked about their past and they got a little emotional … how much they left behind,” she said, adding that many of the seniors had tears in their eyes. “I think it does inspire me because they all worked so hard for a better life. I think I could do something like that, too.”
There was a sense of pride for the UNO and Marrs students as they saw the book in its completed state but also at being able to share the stories among friends of different languages. And there was a new connection in the relationship of the seniors as they finally read one another’s life stories.