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After moving to Portland, Oregon, Sarah Thebarge blogged about her unexpected friendship with a Somali refugee woman and her five young daughters. As Thebarge prepared to sell the stories as a book to start a college fund for the girls, she realized that her own experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27—and the suffering and loss that came with it—was a part of their shared story. Thebarge, author of The Invisible Girls: A Memoir (Jericho Books), spoke with CT assistant editor Elissa Cooper about seeing people who go largely unnoticed and uncared for, discovering she herself was one of them.
Before you met the Somali family, did you have experiences with immigrant or refugee families?
No. I always had an affinity for people who were marginalized, but when I was in Portland, I was still so broken from getting over the cancer experience that I wasn't looking to reach out to anybody. When I met the Somali family, it was personal. I loved them not specifically because they were refugees, but because they were beautiful girls created in God's image.
There's danger when you tell a story like this, because it tends to be the well-off white person swooping in and saving the black people. While the Somali family wasn't well off in terms of money, they were incredibly wealthy in terms of resilience, joy, and love. While I was helping them get on their feet, they were loving me and helping me heal. Things in our typical mainstream culture don't reach your soul the way that a little girl crawling in your lap or having a dance party to African music in the living room can. I helped them not freeze to death or starve to death, but they saved my life more than I could have ever saved theirs.
Aside from some support from family, friends, and the church, you helped the family on your own rather than rely on a local charity. What would you recommend that others do?
There's not an exact formula, but the main thing is relationship. ...