It's the little things that we take for granted, that someone that grew up in a war-torn part of the world has never experienced. Pizza, libraries, a soccer ball to take outside and kick around. But most especially Skee-Ball.
Because of work and the areas of town where I would be able to meet my mentee, it took several months to get matched up. Then I got the call - Mugisha, a twelve-year-old boy from Burundi recently arrived with his parents and three sisters. Mugisha and his family had come to America to escape religious persecution (they are Christian) as well as tribal and cultural reasons (Mugisha is also albino making life dangerous for him in central Africa due to witchcraft beliefs).
Finding activities to do with him were a challenge; his language challenges and albinism added complications sometimes. I found a good consistent activity in bowling - it is inside (out of the sun), the concept is pretty simple to explain (set them up and knock them down), and pretty cheap entertainment. As we were finishing we passed the arcade; he gave my sleeve a tug and pointed. "What that?"
I got a very large smile on my face. "Wait here." I got several dollars in quarters and came back. He had the greatest smile I had ever seen on him. He was a natural, I don't think I ever beat him once in Skee-Ball over the months we played. Mugisha was always going for the corner holes, the hardest but highest point totals. And would often hit them.
The most important thing for a refugee mentor is to be there, to be a stable influence, to listen, and, ultimately, give them a chance to forget their horrors they left behind them, if only one evening a week. No one wants to be a refugee, they only do it because they have no choice.
That first time playing Skee-Ball, when we were done, Mugisha picked up all the tickets that we spit out at the bottom (a much larger pile than mine I am happy to concede), and wordlessly looked at me as if to say "What are these for?" I said "Follow me." His second great joy of the night was finding that he could get candy (!!!!!!!) with those tickets. He got pocket-fulls of candy, the majority of which he told me would be for his sisters, another item that was a rarity for them. Over the months we plunked so many quarters in those machines I don't want to think about it, but not once did I regret it.