Experience Making a Difference

Experience Making a Difference

Mercy and Compassion to Refugees – the IVC Way

by | Dec 16, 2015

“Sayid (name changed to protect privacy) is a heart surgeon from Syria who is very well educated, speaks three languages, is a well-known and well-respected doctor in his community,” describes Bob Sliney, Ignatian Volunteer serving with Catholic Charities Refugee Services in South Boston.

“In December of 2013, Sayid was a first responder to a bombing outside the hospital and was a victim of the second bomb. He sustained traumatic injuries and spent 6 months in a coma. He came to the US to receive rehabilitation and treatment, and the rest of his family is in Lebanon. His wife is an anesthesiologist and their children are 12, 10, and 5,” says Bob. “He comes from a very successful life and he landed in the United States with no resources at all.”

Eduardo Sagarnaga, also an Ignatian Volunteer with Catholic Charities Refugee Services, continues to share this story. “Sayid’s family sent him to the United States, but he was detained at a center because he didn’t have a visa. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has an agreement with Catholic Charities for cases in which the detainee doesn’t pose a risk, so he was released and came to us at Catholic Charities.”

“Sayid suffered from the bombing and now has aphasia. His mind is fine but he can’t communicate because of his injuries,” describes Eduardo. “It is like half of his brain is working and the other half is not. The other part has to learn everything from scratch. He has trouble speaking. After being in the detention center, he was in terrible condition. He had been in a cell and was unable to communicate.”

“When he arrived we worked to set him up with an apartment. We gave him a bed, some furniture, clothing from our Donation Center. We enrolled him in Mass Health and he started treatment. The legal department got him asylum status. With medical coverage and therapy, he is walking better, he can speak better. These are real successes for him,” Bob says.

“For me to be exposed to this is a new experience,” says Bob. “We spend time together. Sayid comes in after his rehabilitation. Eddie sat with him at a recent surgery. We pick him up from the hospital and take him home. Today we’re taking him to a local agency to fill out paperwork. While we’re together we share about our families. His attitude is remarkable when you think of who he is – an accomplished surgeon – and where he is now,” says Bob.

“He says, ‘It’s OK, I’m alive’. It’s remarkable,” says Bob.

“What’s relevant in this case is that Sayid is working with lawyers at Catholic Charities to get his family to join him here. The lawyers thought that perhaps within 12 months of the vetting process, his family would be here. Now with the political situation, Sayid’s family may fall into this net of ‘no Syrian refugees’,” Bob says. “It brings home the issue of what we’re dealing with today on a very local level. That’s the piece that’s affected me most.”

“It’s important for people to understand that the vetting process for refugees is very orderly, established, and thorough,” adds Eduardo.

Eduardo Sagarnaga and Bob Sliney, two Ignatian Volunteers, serve Sayid and many other clients at Catholic Charities Refuee Services in South Boston, an IVC Partner Agency. Eduardo principally supports the legal services team with interpretation services, working directly with clients, which he has done for two years. Bob began in September and helps wherever he is needed – from greeting people at the front desk to folding clothing donations to helping file paperwork.

As a native Spanish speaker, Eduardo gives the gift of language skills to Catholic Charities and clients. “Being able to speak Spanish is a good advantage, as a lot of people are coming from countries south of the border,” says Eduardo. “If we hire translation services, we have to pay. I save them money and interpret for them. That has allowed me to immerse myself in their stories.”

Ignatian Volunteer Eduardo Sagarnaga with Catholic Charities Staff Member Sandra Sarkis

Eduardo with Sandra Sarkis, Catholic Charities Staff

“I have the chance first-hand to know their situations. People come from all over the world, especially from war and conflict areas. Most are very, very sad stories,” he says.

“We offer two main areas of service – legal and resettlement services. In the case of legal services, we see unaccompanied minors, people looking for help for their children, young people fleeing violence, cases of human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and others. As soon as Catholic Charities accepts a client, we are in constant contact with them. We help young people enroll in high school, enroll clients in Mass Health, and meet with lawyers and case managers,” he says.

Ignatian Volunteer Bob Sliney takes a selfie of his work of the day - building shelves and stocking them with donations for refugee families in the Donation Center.

Ignatian Volunteer Bob Sliney shares a selfie of his work building shelves and stocking them with donations for refugee families in Catholic Charities’ Donation Center.


Bob Sliney spends much of his time in what he calls “humble service”. “I work in our Donation Center which provides clothes to people from all nations. I spend half a day folding and sorting clothing donations so they’ll be ready when people come.”

“There are huge demands on the lawyers and case workers as they set up housing, food, and apartments for people. There is lots of paperwork.  I help with whatever I can so staff aren’t totally overwhelmed,” says Bob.

“We’re coming in not to change the world in a huge way, but to touch people one at a time,” Bob says. “We can impact individuals’ lives in a very real way. And in the current political environment, I can talk to people about the realities of what I’ve seen and be a witness. Eddie and I are just two Volunteers of a whole community doing important service in the New England area.”

Eduardo adds, “IVC gives us a chance to live as the Pope says, living the Joy of the Gospel. The way we preach this is not by talking, but by acting, showing how the Gospel is working in our lives. IVC makes us aware of those suffering in our midst and how Jesus is in those people. If you can give your time to this mission, it’s wonderful. If you can give your money, it’s wonderful too. These are both important. IVC gives us the opportunity and chance to do something important for other people. That’s the Ignatian way.”