First Block: Freedom House in Detroit

By Will Jones - Reporter

Imagine having to say goodbye to everything you have ever known and loved, including your family, friends and your country. 

At this very moment, someone is wrestling with that gut-wrenching decision somewhere in the world. 

It's a choice between life and death.

When they decide to flee, the journey for some begins to Detroit, to a place appropriately called Freedom House.

"If you can imagine having to flee your country and the last touch you had was one of electrocution, one of brutality, the least I can do is greet somebody with a hug," said Deb Drennan, the executive director at Freedom House.

Freedom House is a temporary shelter for people who are seeking asylum in the United States and Canada. Asylum-seekers live at Freedom House free of charge and receive assistance with the legal process.

Freedom House is located in an unassuming brick building in the 2600 block of W. Lafayette Boulevard in Detroit.

Dozens of people from countries all over the world live together as a family inside Freedom House.

Many of the residents have been persecuted because of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, politics or sexual orientation. Their physical scars only tell half of the horror of what they have endured in their native country.
I was introduced to Freedom House last November and quickly became a volunteer. It began as a three to four hour a week commitment, but over the last several months it has turned into much more than that.

I spend most of my time at Freedom House with my language partner. He's from a French-speaking country in West Africa. I can't reveal my language partner's name, show you a picture of him or go into detail about his story. It's not because he did anything wrong; it's to protect his family who could be targeted in West Africa if his location is revealed on the internet.

It's my responsibility to help my language partner transition to life in America. When we first met last winter, he barely spoke any English and my French was limited to a few phrases. However, we were still able to communicate and share lots of laughs together. His English has improved dramatically over the last several months. My French is still a work in progress. 

I've become so close with my language partner, we now refer to each other as "mon frère," which means "my brother" in French.

As a token of his appreciation for my time, my language partner had his family back home send me a boubou, which is a long flowing garment that's worn by men and women in his country.

I plan to wear it if he gets his asylum. He also plans to wear his boubou on that day. My language partner suggested with a smile that I should wear the boubou on the air reporting for "Local 4 News Today!" 

Freedom House has changed my life in so many ways. 

I've learned how to cook Fufu, a starchy accompaniment for stews or other dishes with sauce. Fufu is a staple across Africa. Cooking fufu is a workout with the constant stirring that is required.

I've witnessed the strength of the human spirit at Freedom House. The residents taught me the importance of having peace with the past and hope for the future.

I'm so thankful that I made the journey to Freedom House as a volunteer. And I pray for safe travels for all those who are on their way right now to become a resident of Freedom House and one day possibly an American citizen.

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