Giving back by paying it forward

The 2000 film and book "Pay it Forward" suggest that while it is important to "give back" in thanks for all our blessings, it is investing in others -- "paying it forward" -- that will change the world.

Erol Kekic
Erol Kekic

By Erol Kekic, Director
Immigration and Refugee Program
Church World Service

The 2000 film and book Pay it Forward suggest that while it is important to “give back” in thanks for all our blessings, it is investing in others – “paying it forward” – that will change the world.

That theme came to my mind repeatedly during 2010 as I witnessed the outpouring of unselfish service across the CWS/IRP network to welcome more than 7,000 newly arrived refugees to 34 communities across the United States.  That was nearly 10 percent of the 73,311 refugees resettled during FY 2010 by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.

Hundreds of affiliate staff colleagues along with hundreds of local congregations, thousands of volunteers -- and recently resettled refugees themselves -- “paid it forward” out of compassion for these people who have fled for their lives, and out of conviction that these newcomers have much to contribute to our nation and world.  

Indeed, resettled refugees begin quickly to “give back” by “paying it forward.”  The generosity of Janvier Tuyishime from Rwanda, and of Ibrahim Tira and his family from Darfur, Sudan, illustrated that for me this year.

Tuyishime, resettled to Indianapolis by CWS, became a CWS monthly sustainer (“Shepherd of Hope”) this spring soon after he got his first paycheck working as a home health aide.  In addition, he made a special $100 contribution to CWS for its assistance to U.S.-bound African refugees in Accra, Ghana.  

CWS used the money to purchase some “Going to America” supplies for the Tira family, including backpacks and basic school supplies for the five children.  That family was resettled to Erie, Pa., a few months ago.  In September, the Tiras did some “paying it forward” of their own when they participated in a CROP Hunger Walk, raising nearly $200 for CWS work to fight hunger in Erie and around the world.

Read more about Tuyishime and the Tira family

Consider also the refugees from Bhutan whom CWS resettled to Grand Rapids, Mich.  This spring, at the request of CWS’s affiliate PARA Refugee Services, Holy Cross Episcopal Church made available its former labyrinth grounds for a garden.  Twenty-four refugee families collaborated on the garden project and enjoyed its produce.

But when we congratulated them on their success, they immediately responded that their garden was not yet a success because they had only been able to provide food to the households participating in the project.

“Maybe next season we will have true success,” they said, “growing enough to give away.”  These refugee gardeners will not be content until they are able to “pay it forward” to others.

The year to come will offer all of us ways to follow these examples of unselfish investment in others.

  • CWS expects to resettle even more refugees in 2011 than in 2010.  You can help welcome them by contributing your time, funds and household items! 
  • Urge the United States government to increase the number of refugees our nation welcomes each year, and to provide the support they need to integrate.  Remind your members of Congress that our nation invites them not “so they can have a better life” but to save the lives of these people who have fled persecution and conflict.
  • Make your New Year’s resolution for Immigration Reform!  While it’s disappointing that federal legislation didn’t move over this past year, we must not give up.  Let’s keep working for a common sense, moral resolution to our nation’s broken immigration system.
Visit for full information, including a video of CWS Executive Director & CEO John L. McCullough’s New Year’s Resolution for Immigration Reform.  This and other CWS Immigration Reform videos are on our YouTube page.

For more information, contact your local refugee resettlement agency, your denominational refugee desk, or CWS/IRP at; 212-870-3300.

Work with us to nurture welcoming communities in which immigrants and refugees are valued neighbors and their contributions to this country and the world are recognized.


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