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.
Jan 25, 2013

Nearly There

We had climbed up the narrow stairwell in a stark concrete box of a building. The apartment was on the 4th floor. I had brought someone with me, who had "never met a refugee", and who registered in her expression, amazement at how different living conditions in this area of the city were from the areas with which she was familiar. There was no sign of a tree or a blade of grass in the whole city block; nowhere to play safely or ride a bike. Even inside the apartment very little light entered through the small window that served the kitchen/sitting room area. I had chosen this family to visit, because, unlike almost all the other newcomers, the mother spoke English quite well. I knew my guest would have lots of questions. The father spoke no English, but watched the proceedings from a chair at the tiny kitchen table. Two children shyly sat at their mother's feet. They showed great interest in the clothing and food we had brought. A third came in from school, bursting in, and then hiding his embarrassment, by leaving to "go next door".

My guest asked about school, and was surprised that the children had to walk a long way to get there. Most of the families in the block did not have a car, and there was no school bus. The idea that if the family members could not walk to any destination, they could not get there, was a revelation. A bus pass was well outside the reach of a new family with only one wage earner at $8 an hour - and riding a bus required English skills and experience still to be gained.The mother described how for most of the new refugees in her group, coming to America, first by car and then by plane, was frightening as they had never ridden in either before. My guest asked our hostess whether she missed the refugee camp, and was amazed when she burst into tears . Yes she missed the camp terribly.;She had lived there for 20 years - since the age of eight. Many of her friends were resettled in other places and she would not see them again. She did not have to worry about having enough money for food or rent there. She did not have to struggle with language, and she knew what the expectations of her were. Living in a city was scary, and unpredictable. She did not know how to keep her children safe here......... That mother now has a full time job and is a leader in her local community, But now that she is working she no longer qualifies for the medical insurance she received when she arrived. She is only one sickness away from not earning enough to cover rent and family food. Her English has improved greatly and she has learned new skills. But until she can find a job that provides her with medical insurance, she is very likely to still need emergency assistance from time to time. She has almost made it across the bridge.

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!

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