Meet Lanette Pieterse, Employment Specialist, World Relief Spokane:

I was born and raised in South Africa. In 2009 I moved to Vietnam to teach English. There I met my husband, an American, who was also teaching. I lived in Vietnam for about a year and a half and during that time we got engaged. My husband’s parents moved to Spokane, and shortly after we moved here also. It was a harder adjustment to America than I had thought. I imagined it would be like the movies, so it took me by surprise when the small differences added up. Simple things like personal space and the sense of humor made the move more difficult. My sense of purpose and my life with my husband helped me feel comfortable here.

I began job searching in Spokane but I really struggled to find a job I enjoyed. I worked freelance jobs for about a year until I came to World Relief in June 2014. In my job, I work for a federally funded pilot. The program deals with life skills, personal strength building, stress management, health and well-being and how to communicate effectively. It is designed to create long-term success for many different groups of people. We all work here because we want to see refugees be successful and self-sufficient, and that is the driving force for why I do what I do. One of my favorite stories in this job is of a father who was placed as a volunteer at Goodwill. He had a prosthetic arm and spoke very little English, but to him, these were no barriers to success. He was eager to start working even if it meant not getting paid. The managers were so impressed with him they ended up hiring him full time!

I think many people don’t realize how normal refugees are in the sense that they want to be successful and they want to be happy. They are as complex and individual as anyone else you meet. My hope is that people view refugees for more than the tragic story that they may have walked through. At the end of the day, they are just people desiring a new start