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Kholiwe Vundla writes a note to accompany a comforter. (MCC Photo/Ruth Keidel Clemens)

Kholiwe Vundla writes a note to accompany a comforter. (MCC Photo/Ruth Keidel Clemens)

Baltimore youth distribute comforters to refugees

Cathryn Clinton
December 9, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – When Kholiwe Vundla knotted comforters for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), she didn't know that her youth group would be giving similar comforters to refugees in her own community.

Vundla knotted the comforters at an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) youth retreat in September with her youth group from North Baltimore Mennonite Church (NBMC). Mary Martin, clothing coordinator at the MCC East Coast Material Resource Center in Ephrata, Pa., took the comforter tops to the retreat. She shared with the youth that this year, MCC sent comforters to Iraq, Afghanistan, Honduras, Nepal, North Korea, Russia and Ukraine.

NBMC Youth Coordinator Heather Yoder aims to have a youth service project every month. Part of her vision is that the youth interact with the people they serve, so the events become personal experiences.

She had heard that newly arrived Iraqi refugees now living in Baltimore needed blankets through Dr. Mohammed (an assumed name), an Iraqi refugee with ties to the church.

Yoder saw a way to connect people and projects through service.  MCC provided comforters to the youth group and Yoder invited Dr. Mohammed to speak at the youth gathering. Yoder emphasized that the meeting was not just about distributing blankets; it was also about showing signs of friendship, and learning more about the situation in Iraq.

Dr. Mohammed talked about his life in Iraq. He was a physician in charge of the hospital system in Baghdad, and was targeted for personal attack. He had to flee the country, and is waiting for his family to join him.

The youth wrote personal notes of welcome to the refugees in Baltimore who received the comforters the following day.

Vundla said, "Hearing the stories from Dr. Mohammed about life in Baghdad helped to put us in their position, and to understand why they left Iraq."

She experienced the joy of service as she was linked with other people that evening.

"Having an Iraqi refugee himself, who still has family in Iraq, speak to us about his experience gave the project a very personal touch," Vundla said.