The Hmong, a cultural group from the hills of Laos united by a common language, were paid by the CIA to fight on the side of the United States during the Vietnam War. With the U.S.’s withdrawal from Vietnam, the Hmong were left helpless, forced to defend themselves from oppression, chemical weapons, and even the threat of genocide. Fortunately, many have been able to flee to the United States as refugees, and my hometown of Fresno happens to be a common point of settlement for the Hmong.
Stone Soup of Fresno was founded over a decade ago with the purpose of easing the transition to America for Hmong refugees. The organization doubles as a cultural center dedicated to preserving linguistic and religious Hmong traditions. Stone Soup holds festivals, traditional craft sales, dances, and provides services such as medical care, after-school tutoring, and free meals.
Three summers ago, I began volunteering with Stone Soup. “Culture Camp,” Stone Soup’s summer program for young Hmong children, was designed to prepare four- and five-year-olds for American kindergarten. The camp was founded in response to a recent influx of Hmong refugees to the Fresno area. I began my assistance to this program in 2005 and have recommitted myself the last two summers.
My job description didn’t call for rocket science. No, my basic duties essentially consisted of walking cute kids around to different rooms. Yet simple tasks like this made the children feel welcome. I also helped them learn English, clarifying their observations and constantly quizzing them on their colors, numbers, and letters.
Although the benefits of the program have been accrued . I gained a great deal of patience, as I learned about the multitude of hardships many of the children had undergone. I was also impacted on a deeper level. One morning, as the kids were singing “Good Morning to You,” I stared into their optimistic young faces. The gratitude and warmth of their smiles sent tears down my face. At that moment, I became conscious of the immeasurable beauty that young children possess: their naivety blesses them with unyielding hope. I look forward to continuing my participation in the Culture Camp, so I might impart as much to the children as they’re certain to share with me.