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A Home for Refugees In San Diego

There is a man in El Cajon that has a heart too big to be contained in just San Diego. There is a man in El Cajon that wants to live out the life of Jesus and care for the people that need it the most. There is a man in El Cajon named Walter Lam.

Lam was an African refugee who came to the United States from Uganda in the 1980s. In 1989, He started an organization called the Alliance for African Assistance to help refugees get resettled in San Diego. The website’s mission reads:

Guided by Christian values, our mission is to assist refugees, immigrants, the economically challenged, and underserved to become self-sufficient, productive members of their communities.

I walked into the waiting room where beautiful paintings of eagles, giraffes and African women hung just below a line of flags of different countries and colors. I approached the front desk and asked for Sandee Olea.

Olea is the main Public Relations woman for the Alliance and also works with all of their social media outlets. Olea became involved with this organization after she went on a mission trip to Uganda.

“I fell so in love with the people and the country and I wanted to continue to help in any way that I could,” Olea said.

Upon arriving home, Olea searched and found the Alliance for African Assistance. She instantly wanted to be a part of it.

When Olea and I started our tour, she pointed me toward a wall where a white board with a chart on it hung. The boxes on the chart were numbered from 1 to 19 vertically down the left side. Horizontally across the top, there were the words Name, Date of Arrival, Country and Name of Caseworker. Below that, it was empty.

“We used to have to change this board every week because we were getting so many new families,” Olea said. “But after Trump got elected, we maybe see one family a week.”

She walked me around the common room that had one big table in the middle and a smaller table in the right-hand corner surrounded by six or seven kids playing with toys and coloring in the corner. Surrounding this room were smaller rooms filled with people ready to help refugees with anything they needed.

The caseworkers take up one room piled high with folders, envelopes and files. I walked by another room where a volunteer was giving English lessons to a refugee woman. Another room had three desks with people ready to help the refugees get jobs.

The Alliance has a dental office and a health care clinic that are placed right next to each other so the refugees can come down to the Alliance and get everything they need in one trip.

Olea and I stopped in front of a conference room where a tall, widely grinning African man greeted me. His smile was infectious and I knew this had to be Walter Lam.

Lam and I sat down and started talking about his family, his past and his faith.

Through his organization, Lam wants to share the love of Christ with refugees by getting them resettled and connecting them with churches, or whatever faith they are affiliated with in San Diego.

When Lam first came to the U.S. as a refugee, he was forced to leave his three sons and his wife behind in Uganda. But before his family could join him in the U.S., one of his sons was killed.

“There is nothing as painful to a parent then outliving their child,” Lam said.

He wanted to help the refugees coming into the United States because he knew just how difficult the process is. There are mental health therapists at the Alliance to help the refugees out as well.

“Refugees can’t keep jobs a lot of times because they struggle mentally to stay stable,” Lam said. “These refugees have been through so much already. They lost everything they have worked for in life. They lost relatives, lost a country. Their only hope is that wherever they go, they will be given the opportunity to resettle.”

Lam wants refugees to have an opportunity to start over by giving them access to education, access to dental and health care, a roof over their heads and clothes over their bodies. But most of all, he wants to give them safety and hope for a future without this crisis again.

“That’s all they are looking for,” said Lam.

Since the election of President Trump, it has been harder for refugees to come into the U.S., so Lam has brought the Alliance to them. Lam has also set up more offices in Uganda, Italy, London and Kenya.

“Nobody will stop us from saving refugees,” Lam said. “If they are not coming here, then we will go to wherever they are.”

About the author

Jenna Miller

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