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Life Skills: Unique Ways St. Louis Reaches Out to Refugees

Life Skills: Unique Ways St. Louis Reaches Out to Refugees

Last summer, St. Louis’ refugee community was shaken when two Liberian teens, Henry Manu (18) and Samuel Neal (17) drowned in the Meramec River.

 The teens had gone swimming at Castlewood State Park, in an area where swimming risk signs were posted. Neither knew how to swim.

 Manu was an incoming senior at Lutheran South High School and Neal an incoming junior at Roosevelt High School.

 In response to the tragedy, the Lutheran South High School girls swim team partnered with Christian Friends of New Americans (CFNA) to offer free swim lessons to refugee children in St. Louis. CFNA supported Manu when he arrived in the United States as a child, 10 years before his drowning.

 The swim team wanted to teach basic life-saving skills, such as how to tread water and how to float.  Thirty five kids from ages 5 to 15 showed up for the first lesson.

 A simple Google search will show that St. Louis, International Language Center’s home base, is full of encouraging stories like this. Events abounded city-wide on World Refugee Day in June, acknowledging that the diverse and ever-evolving ethnic communities are here to stay.

Photo courtesy of

 Last October, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Music without Boundaries program welcomed a bus load of immigrant and refugee families to a free family concert and instrument exhibit where participants could learn hands-on about the instruments in the orchestra. That tipped off a series of events for a 16-year-old Syrian boy who had spent five years in a refugee camp in Jordan prior to living in St. Louis. He had taken piano lessons during his time in Jordan, and longed to continue lessons in the U.S. The family of Principal Horn player Thomas Jöstlein gave the refugee teen a full size Casio keyboard, and Karam Khaddour, a pianist and medical student who had studied in Damascus, offered to give the boy free piano lessons.

 International Language Center serves refugees and immigrants every day, by providing interpreting, language education and translation in more than 100 languages. As a business that turns on the wide need of language services in St. Louis, the Midwest, and the global companies we serve, we stand behind the giving spirits of those who recognize community needs around them and respond with the gifts they have.

 As St. Louis strives to become the fastest growing region for foreign-born people by year 2020, that spirit of community support will be increasingly crucial.

At a time when the number of refugees and displaced persons is at its highest point since World War II, it is worth considering what we have to teach each other.

Manu, the 18-year-old Liberian refugee who drowned last year, had lost his mother to the Liberian civil war. His father died in a refugee camp.

“Manu had survived and fled war-torn Liberia … only to drown in the Meramec River while attempting to have some summer fun,” reads an article in the West End Word.

Swim lessons. Musical instruments. English classes.  

 Survival and a sense of belonging are universal needs.

Like the Lutheran South girls’ swim team, we all have something to give. St. Louis provides some awesome examples of big-hearted people who think outside of the box.



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