Norma, a beloved elementary school principal for 25 years, fled El Salvador after she confronted the leader of a powerful local gang that was trying to recruit students from her school to join his gang. The very next day, a man riding in a car sprayed gunfire into Norma’s house. Norma wasn’t home at the time but she heard the message was loud and clear. Norma sought help from the police but they refused to file a report. When she demanded to speak to the police captain, the captain took her into his office, closed the door, and told her the police could not protect her. The gang was too powerful. Norma and her husband decided now would be a good time for her to visit her cousin living in Fairfax, Virginia. Norma reasoned she would go away for a few weeks and wait for the crisis to pass. But while she was away, she learned the gang had killed one of her students — 12 year-old boy who tried to stop the attempted rape of his sister by a gang member. That’s when Norma knew she would never be safe in El Salvador.
Norma felt fortunate that she had a safe place to stay but she also felt very lonely. Norma’s cousin was always working and spent very little time at home. Norma didn’t have a car, didn’t have any money, and didn’t have any friends. She spent most of her days in her room thinking about how everything had gone terribly wrong. She desperately missed her husband, children, and grandchildren back home. Norma’s only recreation was an English class she attended once a week. Over time, Norma confided in her English teacher that she needed help. After a quick internet search, the teacher gave her the information for AsylumWorks.
Norma cried tears of relief after her first visit to AsylumWorks office. For the first time since her arrival, she felt like someone understood what she was going through. With AW staff encouragement, Norma began participating in the community building program where she quickly met other clients who felt familiar to her. They spoke the same language, used the same slang, and even looked like Norma which she found reassuring. Soon, Norma was calling and texting with her new friends. They made plans to meet up. For the first time in a long time, Norma had something to look forward to. Today, when Norma is missing home and feels sad, she calls the friends she met through AsylumWorks.
In addition to attending community events, Norma was also paired with Denise, a Friendly Neighbor volunteer. Every week, Denise would call Norma just to check in. Denise would ask about her week, about her grandchildren back home, and chat about everyday things. Norma looked forward to these calls as an opportunity to practice her English. Between calls, Norma and Denise would text cute pictures of their grandchildren. “It makes me happy to know there are good people who care like Denise,” said Norma. “She is always happy to answer my questions. She is a true friend.”