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  • Alex Ann Hicks

Resilience and a New Beginning - An Interview with a Refugee Family and How NorthStar has Made an Impact

Updated: May 9

Language and cultural barriers have not stopped NorthStar from partnering with Inspiritus - “a nonprofit organization focused on guiding individuals and families who have experienced disruption on a path from surviving to thriving.”

Last summer, we had the amazing opportunity to host a soccer camp with Inspiritus for children from refugee families. On the first day, the camp staff struggled with all of the multiple languages, but by the end of the week, communication was flowing through gestures and the game itself! Camp staff commented that witnessing the beauty of the ability to communicate through the sport by the end of the week was a major highlight. Another beautiful result of this camp was the ability of some of the players from the camp to participate on NorthStar teams this past fall and spring. This summer, we plan to do the same camp! Beyond the camp, we’d like to highlight a family from Venezuela who has not only been participating in our program this spring, but actively volunteering and getting involved!

The Bermudez family arrived in the US on October 12, 2023 –  five years after fleeing Venezuela. Before the trek, Jhona suffered family losses - her mother passing of colon cancer and her grandfather passing during COVID, and Josue’s family is spread out through Venezuela and Peru. Jhona and Josue worked in entertainment from circus juggling in Jhona’s case, to parkour and fire dancing for Josue to make ends meet. Previously Jhona and Josue both were working in international marketing before they left because they were forced to promote government propaganda. Jhona spoke of her job becoming miserable since 2016, and starvation being the turning point to leave, beyond the political issues and threat of danger alone. The family was traveling alone - Jhona and Josue with their two children.

In 2018, the Bermudez family traveled mostly on foot and then resided in Colombia for three years, although Jhona and Josue were unable to find solid work due to their lack of documentation in Colombia. Additionally, their third child was born there and her citizenship was a struggle because neither Colombia or Venezuela would recognize her. Around this time, Jhona began to truly lean on God and ask Him to help her family. The new Colombian president made allowances for Venezuelans to reside in the country, but then conflict and widespread violence broke out and it became threatening to live there as well. Following this, the Bermudez family traveled to Ecuador in 2022, but ran into similar issues with finding work, as well as Jhona becoming very sick. 

In Ecuador, the Lord answered Jhona’s prayers. She was approached by an international Christian organization that promised to help her and her family find a better situation in another country, although she had to heal from her sickness before leaving, which was about a year. During this time, Jhona and Josue worked as street performers to make ends meet, and Josue stated that although there were many “bad” options to make money and feed his family, he chose to do things that were honorable because of his faith in God. As time went on, they were able to sing and play guitar in restaurants once they were more established, which was much easier than performing outside juggling and fire dancing. 

Once Jhona had healed, and when the family received the news that they were being placed in the US, they did not know what to expect! They ended up in Birmingham, Alabama and have since felt peace that they have a safe and comfortable home, Josue has a good job working in construction, as well as now having bank accounts to save money. The two are taking English and US history classes, attending Iron City Church, and adjusting fairly well with the help of Inspiritus. Jhona is “very grateful for God moving a lot of people to help her,” and further comments on her children stating that they want their kids to know that what they went through is hard, but also, they want them to be in a better position in life.  

That is how the family became connected to NorthStar! When setting their kids up in school, Jhona and Josue were looking for other activities for them to get involved with to support their physical and mental health, and chose NorthStar because Inspiritus specifically invited new families to register kids for NorthStar with the commitment to pay their fees for the first season. They chose NorthStar to be their activity - a whole family activity! The three children have had a great season playing on teams in the NorthStar Intramural League. Thanks to our partner Birmingham Legion FC, we have also been able to get them to a couple of those professional soccer matches! 

The parents have become active NorthStar volunteers. Jhona helps with newsletter folding at home, and plans to be a coach at the Inspiritus camp. Josue dazzled NorthStar kids with a Fire Show on a recent Saturday! 

Jhona stated that NorthStar has helped her kids forget the bad and focus on the good things in life like enjoying time spent with others and outside. She also spoke about her kids being more disciplined, calmer, and focused on the sport throughout the season. Jhona and Josue give God the glory for connecting them with good people in their life, and here at NorthStar we are humbled and honored to be a part of their journey!

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