The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Who is my neighbor?

Every morning, Henry Ndaba returns home to his one-room apartment after working the night shift as a taxi driver. His wife and four kids are asleep when he stashes his nightly pay of $5 into a slit of the family mattress.

Ndaba and his family used to live in Congo. Every day, innocent people are killed in the African nation because of power struggles within the government. More than 3 million lives have been claimed. Ndaba knew this was no place to raise his children.

He took his family and fled the country, joining millions of African refugees. However, the Ndabas consider themselves lucky. They made it to America.

Today, Ndaba and his family live in Vickery Meadow, one of the largest refugee communities in Texas. It is located less than five miles from SMU and the Park Cities, one of the wealthiest communities in the nation. Vickery Meadow houses over 40,000 people. Many families there are plagued by violent crime, drugs, robbery and prostitution, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study. These families desperately need assistance.

Laura Arellano-Weddleton, 21, is the minister of social justice at SMU Catholic. Every Wednesday afternoon, she and a group of five to eight students travel to Vickery Meadow to help tutor children in the community.

“I am really surprised that no one knows Vickery Meadow exists, let alone how close it is to campus,” Arellano-Weddleton said.

The classroom is the size of a small bedroom, but it somehow manages to accommodate 12 students at a time. In Vickery Meadow, the tutoring program is the only activity to keep children off the streets and focused on their education.

“Everyone here, especially the children, are very candid in describing what they have gone through. It’s such a great feeling to know that you’re making a difference, and at the same time, gaining a new perspective on life,” Arellano-Weddleton said.

The children are eager to learn and finish their homework with the help of these SMU students. Even if the kids don’t have homework from school that day, they still like to visit the center and play a simple game of tic-tac-toe or complete a word search with one of their college friends.

Arellano-Weddleton says she knows that SMU students want to make a difference.

“SMU students had that huge Darfur campaign last semester to help raise money,” she said. “They care about what’s happening in the world. I know if more people just knew about Vickery Meadow, they would want to help too.”

Ndaba and his wife Mary Jo-ell Ndaba now have six children. They have been living in Vickery Meadow for more than two years now. Their three-bedroom apartment located on East Park Lane off of North Greenville is a definite upgrade from their home in Congo, but their struggles have continued.

Raising a family in a community full of drugs and violence is a burden faced by most families living in Vickery Meadow. The Ndabas depend on their close family ties and the tutoring program to keep their children involved in a positive lifestyle.

“My son is my best friend, even though he is only 10. I have to protect him and the rest of my family. It’s not safe being in public places around here,” Ndaba said.

This neighborhood was not always dangerous. In the 1970s, Vickery Meadow was considered an upscale community for singles, comparable to the West Village in Dallas. Children were not allowed. Crime was minimal.

Stephanie Hoke, a refugee advocate and children programs coordinator for Vickery Meadow, explained when the rule for banning children was abolished, the residents of Vickery Meadow moved, leaving numerous apartments empty and landlords desperate.

By the early 1990s, Vickery Meadow had a large immigrant population. Conflicting cultures within the community sent crime soaring. Minimal improvements have been made to make Vickery Meadow a safer place to live.

“People avoid driving through Vickery Meadow, especially at night, because it can be pretty dangerous,” Hoke said.

Ndaba wants to prevent his children from becoming friends with other kids in the neighborhood.

“I don’t want them to become mixed up with the people who have guns and traffic drugs. That’s why I try to take them everywhere I go, even if it’s to Auto-Zone. At least that way I know my children aren’t making friends with the wrong people,” Ndaba said.

Ndaba prefers that his children make friends with “older people,” such as the college students and other volunteers who help out in the community.

“They have a positive influence, unlike the kids that are my children’s age,” Ndaba said.

Currently, Ndaba is working the night shift at the DFW airport. Both he and his wife are taking ESL classes during the day to improve their English language skills. The language barrier is one of the largest problems facing immigrants who seek employment in the United States, but the Ndabas are trying to learn English as best they can.

More than 40 organizations across Dallas volunteer and donate to Vickery Meadow, but additional assistance is always needed. SMU Catholic donates its time weekly to help out the community, but there is a need for more volunteers.

“Once we have recognized the discrepancy and experienced how different it is, you can’t help but want to give back,” Arellano-Weddleton said. “We are only connected by a highway, but it feels like worlds apart.”

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