Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Alum Post: Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski

               When I applied for USP way back in the spring of 2007, I remember asking Mark Bartels what alumns did after their semester abroad.  I really wanted to know that there was something big and important about being in Uganda that changed students’ lives, that caused them to choose new career paths or to move to Africa for good. What proved true for me is that what mattered most about being in Uganda  was something very small, the simple act of welcoming.

In Uganda I was continually welcomed. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone saying, “Karibu! You are most welcome.” Whether I was out running on the dusty road around campus, riding on a matatu to Kampala, drinking tea with my host mom, or wringing out my dirty laundry in the little field across from Sabiti, I was made to feel at home.  I remember there was one student who would invite me every Sunday after church to eat biscuits and sing hymns and carols with her. Even though she was herself being sponsored by a parish priest and had little to share, she always went out of her way to welcome me.

When I returned to the US, I promised myself that I would do my best to extend the generous welcome I received in Uganda. Even though it felt strange and uncomfortable  at times, I sought out opportunities to be with people who might be experiencing that bewildering feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. I took a young man from Entebbe, Uganda who had just moved to the area to explore the mountains of Nevada. I invited an undergraduate student from Bulgaria to have tea in my apartment. I helped a group of Bhutanese refugees apply for Social Security cards and Food Stamps. Over and over again I tried to share a piece of the welcome I had been given as a foreign student.

Being with these newcomers in the years since Uganda has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have found that the more energy I give to helping others  feel at home here in the United States, the more I am enriched.  They share with me their cultures, their faiths, their languages, and their dreams for life in a new land. Whenever I enter a newcomer’s apartment, I think about that quote from The Primal Vision, “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy.” As I enter the lives and homes of refugees and immigrants from all over the world to offer a hand of welcome, I’ve found that something truly beautiful, truly holy is always waiting for me.

The experience of working with newcomers has caused me to re-evaluate who I want to be and what I want to do with my life. After graduating from Duke Divinity a few years back,  I was lucky to get a job working as the Community Resource Coordinator for Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program here in Durham. Every day I greet families who’ve just arrived in the United States, assist them with learning about American culture, and work with volunteers to create events which engage refugees and community members. I have even started a running club for refugees as a way to teach healthy habits and bring in volunteers who wouldn’t otherwise meet these newest neighbors. More on that here.  In my day-to-day work I am lucky to be able  to share the kind of hospitality I received in Uganda and to have the opportunity to teach the work of  welcoming to hundreds of others in my community.  It’s my hope that in all of this, I am giving back just a little of what I received as an American in Uganda. 
Kelly Cohen-Mazurowski, far left, with a group of Iraqi refugees at a recent cultural event


  1. Thanks Kaity! Would love to use this post as a springboard for networking with other USP alums, especially those in the nonprofit world. Feel free to email me at