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Refugee reflects on experience at vigil for Afghan refugees

On Wednesday, Bethany Christian Services hosted a vigil, standing in solidarity with Afghan refugees.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Sylvia Nyamuhungu has heard it all.

"Ever since, I was young I've always been familiar with the term refugee," she says.

That's because Nyamuhungu was a refugee herself when she was 15.

"We came from Kenya," she says.

Having gone through the experience personally, seeing images from Afghanistan in recent weeks has been rough.

"Very emotional," she explains. "A bit traumatizing."

She works with local organizations to help refugees settle in West Michigan like she did.

A practice Bethany Christian Services (BCS) has long been familiar with.

"Since the 70s," says BCS president Chris Palusky. "In fact, President Ford called us and said would you be willing to help with the Vietnamese."

On Wednesday, BCS hosted a vigil, standing in solidarity with Afghan refugees. They're currently working to place almost 200 Afghan refugees in Michigan, something Palusky says can be helped with a simple act of volunteering.

"Help set up an apartment, drive a refugee to an appointment, getting a drivers license, helping them get a job," explains Palusky.

Sharif Sahibzada, Imam of the Islamic Center of West Michigan, agrees with Palusky that a small act can go a long way.

"Faith doesn't teach us to hate each other," he says. "Faith is to love each other. To help each other."

Representative Peter Meijer joined the event. Having served in Afghanistan and meeting the people, he says refugees would be a welcome addition to West Michigan.

"Incredibly gracious, incredibly welcoming," says Meijer. "They would always make sure a guest was served first. I think they will be a strong part of our community."

Nyamuhungu hopes people will take the time to learn about refugees already here in the community.

"It's easy to just close your TV and go to sleep, wake up," she says. "But there are actually people here, living here, and I think that's powerful, to experience that."

To learn more about volunteering with Bethany Christian Service and refugees in West Michigan, click here.

RELATED VIDEO: West Michigan prepares for refugees

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