Local students interact with refugee families

Nursery school children at La Jolla United Methodist Church got their first taste of international relations recently, greeting children from refugee families who came from southeast San Diego to visit the school.

The encounter on Feb. 9 at the church school included games, lunch and playground time. It was part of the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC’s) “First Things First” program, an intercultural exchange that provides emergency relief and assists refugees to relocate and rebuild their lives, according to it is Web site.

“This is often the first time these refugee families have interacted with local San Diego families,” nursery school director Becky Candra noted. “Although this was their first in-person meeting, children were no strangers to one another — they’d been pen pals for several weeks, and there was a high level of anticipation.”

IRC spokeswoman Colleen Krause said that it was a breakthrough meeting for immigrant children and their parents.

“It’s incredible for these families who feel like, for their first time on a social level, that they are welcomed to the community and can really connect on a friendship level,” she said.

Candra said the face-to-face meeting between children from both schools was as broadening an experience for La Jolla youths as it was for their counterparts.

“Our kids are so isolated in La Jolla, they don’t get to really see people of color, which is why we worked to start the pen pal program with the IRC,” she said. “One of their teachers told me the (immigrant) kids got to see the ocean for the first time because of the bus trip (here). It was so touching to see these children playing together, running and sliding, having tea parties, giving things they’d made to each other.”