Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego

To provide assistance to refugees in San Diego County who have been forced from their homeland by racial, economic and religious persecution, and who have needs beyond those that government funded resettlement agencies can provide, in order to help them to be self sufficient, productive community members.
Oct 24, 2012

Problem Solving on the Go

This is what it says
This is what it says

One day, when delivering household goods to a family in City Heights, San Diego, I was met at the curbside by the mother.  She smiled broadly, placed a very heavy box of dishes on her head, and bending her knees to clear an overhead bar at the gate, without missing a step, she disappeared up three flights of narrow stairs.  I thought, "If I were suddenly set down in her country, in her rural setting, I would totally fail, because I could not carry water or other heavy weights on my head."

Finding out how to survive, and eventually prosper in a new country, requires learning many new skills. Since so many of the refugees we serve speak no English on arrival, and few can read, even in their own language; translation and explanations provided by our 5 employees who were refugees themselves, is vital.  The staff are available to the families we serve, by cell phone, even when other official offices are closed: and they call ahead to make sure that children are ready to be picked up for tutoring, or for medical visits, or that someone will be home when a volunteer arrives bringing items that have been requested.

One excellent time for problem solving is when the Network's truck arrives at an apartment complex to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables.  There are often family members waiting, with an official notice in hand to show to an outreach worker, to find out what it means, and what they need to do.  The photo captures one of these encounters.  Our outreach worker explained the letter about the need for some medical tests.  She arranged to pick up the family members involved, and to be there to translate, at the appointed time.  Bills are also especially puzzling to those who have spent many years in a refugee camp.  The teachable moment, like the one in the photo, spreads knowledge to others in the same apartment complex, and also alerts the Network when topics need to be addressed at special group meetings. 

Aug 2, 2012

An End of School Year Celebration

This summer brought three special reasons for celebration.  First, the Network's new weekly tutoring session for refugee school children in El Cajon, filled to capacity with eager students.  Those receiving this help in El Cajon are mostly Karen and Iraqi. Some require our staff's translation services.  All benefit from the organized one on one or small group work with volunteer tutors, some of whom are members of the local chapter of the American Association of University Women.  

Second, thanks to donations, the two other tutoring sessions in the City Heights section of San Diego were able to continue, fully packed, for the whole school year, despite the high cost of gas.  These refugee children are mostly Karen. Besides some initial translation help, they require transportation from nearby schools to our tutoring sessions, and to their homes afterwards, because of distance and for safety.  We hope that donations will enable the Network to keep tutoring going during the summer as well, in the coming school year, so newly developing English skills are kept as high as possible.

Third, we are delighted to celebrate the seven Karen students in our tutoring sessions, who were seniors in high school this year, and who graduated.  This is an amazing milestone for them and demonstrates tremendous effort and dedication on their part. They have been here for only four years.  When they arrive they are placed in school classes according to their age, not their educational level.  This is particularly difficult, for both teacher and student, as many classes in San Diego City schools have speakers of 20 or more different languages. Many of the refugee children have had no formal education before.  They have had to master SO much new educational information and so many skills; and they have had so much to learn about the new expectations of them in this new homeland.  Our special congratulations go to one of the seven graduates who received a scholarship to attend San Diego State University - what a wonderful role model!

May 3, 2012

An upcoming challenge

In 1998 one hundred Lost Boys of the Sudan arrived as refugees in San Diego.  They were young men who had suffered many dangers and privations on their long walks to refugee camps. For them, the struggle to adapt to a new and very structured society was often more traumatic than it was for those who came as part of a family. The Network provided them with household necessities  and guidance and support for several years, as they gained skills and overcame their fears and traumas.  In the current year we are expecting a group of young men who escaped throught the jungle and by boat, from Myanmar to refugee camps in Malaysia, where they have been for more than 10 years .  They speak Chin.

As very few Chin speakers currently live in San Diego, and of those only two speak English, translation will be a challenge.  Jobs are beginning to be very hard to find, and we foresee that, like the Lost Boys, these men will also need more of our help than the other newcomers who are also expected. 

The Network is holding a gala on a Victorian Ferry Boat that is part of the San Diego Maritime Museum, on May 5th, with exotic food, and entertainment by Sudanese refugee singers and drummers, and by young Karen refugee dancers. We hope to raise enough money to cover the salaries of some of our 5 refugee employees who speak many of the languages we need, to serve our rapidly diversifying clientele.  There is a short video about this event on our website at www.episcopalrefugeenetwork.org.  If you happen to be in the area you would be most welcome.

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