More about Clarkston, the refugee city

by Rachel Cooper
Posted 3/27/13, 09:42 am

CLARKSTON, Ga.—Burmese. Congolese. Sudanese. Syrian. Ethiopian. Thai. Nepali. Arabic. Every Saturday morning, students speaking those and other languages come to the Proskuneo School of the Arts in this Georgia town just east of Atlanta. Children as young as 5 come to draw, paint, play instruments, and sing, but they also learn to interact with kids from other cultures.

Clarkston was all white until the 1990s, when resettlement programs began moving refugees there from around the world (see Jamie Dean’s cover story from the April 6 issue of WORLD). Josh Davis, 36, started Proskuneo Ministries in 2001 to help refugees, primarily children, adjust to their new life in America. Twelve years later, 60 children gather each week at the school, which meets on the third floor of Clarkston International Bible Church.

Davis and Heidi Thomas, 51, supervise volunteer teachers who tutor the students individually and in groups. Kids play donated musical instruments, with those who show responsibility allowed to take them home. Many students walk to Proskuneo through unsafe areas of town, so volunteers often pick them up. Davis and Thomas hope to one day get a van, but for now a multi-colored sea of faces pile into volunteers’ cars.

Teachers work hard to dispel students’ biases against associating with other nationalities or associating with members of a lower caste. They deal with these issues by teaching in groups and explaining, from Genesis, that all of us are created in God’s image.

“When the students discover the creative talents they have at the school they understand how they are created in God’s image on a personal level, not just something we tell them is true,” Davis said

In one large classroom, ribbons stretch from the floor to the ceiling along a cinderblock wall. Each ribbon represents a different instrument or type of art, and clothes-pinned to it are 10 to 15 photos of students working on that subject. As students progress, they move their photos up the ribbons. Davis said students worry if one student gets ahead or behind, because they value group more than individual success.

In another room on the day I visited, kindergarten-age students from the Congo, Jordan, and Colombia were building a Lego castle. As with instruments and art, students worked together. The little ones eagerly grabbed observers’ hands, searching for English words that could express their excitement in creating.

Davis plans to move his wife and four children to Clarkston. Some people wonder why they would move to a place many believe is dangerous, but Davis wants his home, like his school, to be a gathering place for Christians and non-believers from many nations.

Rachel Cooper

Rachel is a graduate of Auburn University, where she majored in journalism, minored in business, and rode for the school's equestrian team. She is working as a WORLD intern in Asheville, N.C.

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