By Dhananji Rathnayake | Photos by Mark Mattos

Music, dance, gifts, awards, and traditional foods added a festive air to end-of-year celebrations for the Intercultural Peer Support Program at the Center for Grieving Children (CGC) in Portland. Somalian musician Hadith Bani Adam played the oud, and participants shared stories from their lives, recollections of time spent together, and heartfelt appreciation for the center.

“This is the place where I learned how to love,” said one of the students. “Now I know how to communicate with people and make friends. And also now I know how to cook! Our teachers are very friendly, and they are good listeners.” Justine Mugabo, the Intercultural Program Coordinator at CGC, emphasized the importance of providing a safe space for children and teens to express themselves in order to be able to heal from trauma. Michelle Amato, a teacher of English for speakers of other languages, painted a picture of the trauma children have suffered. “Many of our students, at this time, are coming to this country and to Portland from Angola and also some from the Congo. They are flying into Brazil and then traveling from Brazil, often either on foot 100% of the time, or sometimes in vans or other forms of transportation, until they get to an area in Central America where there are no highways. And so they have to then travel through the jungle.

“I like to help people, because people helped me when I needed it.”
— CGC Alumni

The unfortunate part of that experience for most of the people who have traveled is that some people don’t make it. Mothers, fathers, children, sometimes die along the way. People are swept away in rivers. People sometimes are hurt, and they can’t be carried. So our students have seen dead bodies along their path. Some have lost parents or siblings. In addition to that, women and men alike are raped.”

Mugabo expressed gratitude to many individuals and organizations who play important roles in the center, including students, facilitators, families, musicians, sponsors, transportation services, AmeriCorps, CGC staff and board members.