by Myron Madden
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|Pamela Gammenthaler poses with Sophia Lin, one of the students from Duluth Adventist Christian School|
Even before the photo of a drowned toddler drew America’s attention and resources to the refugees in Syria, there has been a need to aid those forcibly displaced from their native countries. According to the United Nations, there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide by the end of 2014, many of whom are still calling out for help. This summer, one member of Southern Adventist University’s faculty did her best to answer that call.
In August, Pamela Gammenthaler, associate professor of nursing, traveled to Georgia with eight other volunteers to help deliver backpacks and school supplies to 40 refugee students from Myanmar at Duluth Adventist Christian School. The trip was made in conjunction with Friends of Refugees providing Education and Empowerment (FREE), a nonprofit that provides resources to refugees to help them become thriving, self-sufficient members of their community.
Before the nine-member team made its way to Duluth, FREE collected grade-specific supplies from Georgia-Cumberland Conference churches. Each church received pictures of each student, and members donated materials to the student or students of their choice. Gammenthaler and her team then distributed each personalized bag filled with pencils, notebooks, scissors, and several other items to the overjoyed students.
“They were so excited!” Gammenthaler said. “A little timid, maybe, but so excited when they got their name called! They were even more excited to open their bags up and see what they got!”
The group also spent three hours getting the children sized for new uniforms. Gammenthaler became an asset because her experience teaching pediatrics gave her a robust knowledge of sizing. Her vast clinical experience with children and having four of her own is also what drew her to this particular service project.
“I feel like I can really relate to kids of all ages,” Gammenthaler said. “And these were the most polite little group of kids. Very proper. They were so much fun to be around.”
Though Gammenthaler and her group helped out in a small way, the supplies and uniforms meant a lot to the children and — even more so — to their parents. Most of the parents, Gammenthaler noted, were single mothers. Many of their husbands had been killed in warfare during the unrest in Myanmar, and without the ability to speak English, the mothers were struggling to find jobs to provide for their families.
“These people come over here with absolutely nothing,” Gammenthaler said. “So the parents were extremely thrilled because these were things they couldn’t afford to do for their children.”
For the last two years, Gammenthaler has been consistently sending donations to the refugees in Georgia, but with the awareness brought on by the Syrian refugee crisis, she believes Christians should be taking advantage of every opportunity to provide aid and relief.
“There’s going to be more and more,” Gammenthaler said. “If the U.S. is arranging transport, I think it’s a huge witnessing event. We just need to continue with that Christian outpouring of assistance. The more we can witness and show God’s love to these people, the better it will get for refugees in more places than Georgia.”
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