I figured I knew GSO pretty well, particularly downtown.
But I had to ask twice where to find Elon’s Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic, and when I heard it was across from West Market United Methodist Church and around the corner from the bank of law offices near Architectural Salvage, I was like, “Huh?’’
So, I walked. And when I saw two Montagnards standing in front a glass door that I’ve passed thousands of times, I felt a little like David Byrne.
Yes, this must be the place.
It was. It’s a blink-and-miss storefront on West Friendly. But inside, in a warren of offices, the clinic’s director Heather Scavone and Elon law students work with 300 refugees a year.
And these refugees come from all over the world. And they all have their own harrowing story.
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I wrote about one such story Sunday.
It involved the family of Honorine Ningatoloum. She and her family escaped yet another uprising in Central African Republic, thanks to the local chapter of the American Red Cross and that hard-to-find clinic downtown.
The law clinic is pretty special. It’s one of only three of its kind south of D.C. Of course, one is in DC. The other? Miami.
On Honorine’s case, at least eight law school students worked on it. And yes, all that work si free.
Honorine’s story had a happy ending, and their reunification was quick.
Just a little less than two years.
Not all are that quick, Heather told me.
And not all sound so Hallmark.
“We’ve had some where we’ve worked on reunifications for five years and nothing is ever resolved, and we’ve had reunifications where children die,’’ she says. “They are in harm’s way. They’re in a bad place, and unfortunately, it happens more than one time.’’
I thought about what Heather told me when I met Honorine’s 14-year-old daughter, Elsa. She’s an eight-grader at Hairston Middle. She’s sharp.
She came with her mother, her two sisters and her younger brother in September 2010. Back then, she couldn’t speak a lick of English. Now, she’s got it mastered – and the feel of being an American teenage girl.
“I started sharing my bathroom with boys,’’ she told me Thursday night. “That is so annoying.’’
When I went to see Honorine and her family, Elsa acted as my interpreter. There she was, wearing a black dress she wears to church and deciphering the rapid-fire French I heard into something I could understand.
Then, we talked.
She admitted America is much better. She gets to go to school for free. And the bigger deal? She gets to go to school at all.
Moreover, she’s not living with her family in two rooms. Her family has a three-bedroom, one-bath apartment off English Road. She has a bedroom she shares with her two younger sisters, and they all sleep in a queen-size bed covered with a striped bedspread.
Elsa spells her last name: Kotagonda. But later, I find out our federal government has it as this: Kota Ngonda.
Anyway, back to Elsa. And her essay.
Before I leave, Elsa plops on the couch and picks up the family’s laptop. I sit beside her, and she shows me the essay she wrote for school. She titled it: “It’s All About Me.’’
You’ll see it in the upper left. One line caught my attention.
“In the future, I am going to make a change in the world, I’m going to make the world a better place.’’
Looks like she’s starting now.
This must be the place for her, too.