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.
Sep 1, 2011

New beginnings and challenges

For our poster girl for June, in picture 1, the end of the school year marked a huge step into a bigger world. She had attended high school in San Diego for two short years, and had enthusiastically attended every Thursday's after school tutoring/homework coaching progam, run by the Network. She had also come to community meetings with me where we spoke about the experiences of refugees as they transition to life in San Diego. But now she had reached her 18th birthday, so she was not permitted to remain enrolled in school. Fortunately she was a very able student, who worked very hard both at mastering her English skills, and at assimilating the content of the other classes, for which she had had no academic background. She is now a sales person in a small clothing store. This is in itself a real achievement, as entry level jobs are very hard to find. For most who arrive after the age of 11, this success is often beyond reach. She is an inspiration to the younger students , and to the tutors, who volunteer so many hours to encouraging and coaching these new community members.

The tutoring also provides opportunities for finding out about other needs of the children, or of their families. One tutor asked her dentist to assess the damage done to a Sudanese child's teeth under a basketball hoop. The intense pain was not so much because of the teeth! The jaw was broken. So medical and dental help were both necessary and while the jaw was wired shut, liquid diet was needed. This led to more discoveries such as the absence of pillow and bedding on the bare matress on which he was sleeping, and help needed by the grandmother with whom he lived. That young man is now in his second year of University studies.

The past three months have included finding and trainig new tutors to replace those moving on to university or to other job locations; updating materials; and collecting and filling backpacks for new arrivals, for those who have outgrown the first one we gave them. Some of the newcomers, even if they are of high school age, have never experienced formal education of any kind. We are expecting a much greater need for the services we have been providing. On July 1, this year the allocation of federal funds for refugees receiving initial help through the 4 resettlement agencies, was cut 8%, and the way that some of the initial sevices are now provided, no longer includes a specific outreach worker from the resettlement agency assigned to each family. This means that many families are likely to need someone to ask when they do not kow how to read something, or how to do things expected of them, or if they have an emergency outside of office hours. They will also be more in danger of not being able to stretch the allocation to cover food as well as rent or bus fares, let alone school supplies and clothing. A lost job, or a cut back in hours, for one or more of the breadwinners in a family who may have been in San Diego for some time, will also bring them to us, as they attempt to make ends meet.

Your interest in the work we do is very much appreciated, and your donations have made a difference in the lives of the families. There is a new Global Giving matching grants day coming up in October. Keep tuned for details later this month, and a reminder just before the day. Stretching the amount of your gift in the 24hour window of opportunity will result in more children with nourishing food and a back pack to be proud of; and help with family emergencies of many kinds. We especially appreciate your referring our project to your friends and contacts, as one you think worth supporting. That is very encouraging!


May 24, 2011

Basic needs and exciting successes

preparing food for distribution
preparing food for distribution

In the last three weeks the Refugee Network has received several exciting pieces of news about what refugees we have helped in the past are doing now. Those who knew how to speak and write English when they arrived, and those who had work experience or education, had a definite advantage when it came to adjusting to this very complex society, but some of those without these advantages also reported having made great strides towards self reliance.

One had started his own towing business, one was already a successful model, one had a job at a hospital, which provided free medical care for her family, many had completed high school successfully, some had graduated from colleges and universities, and others had taken vocational courses to prepare themselves for the job market.

One of the most noticeable inclusions in the success stories was mention of the development of a dream that made it possible for the refugee to envisage himself or herself in a particular job or profession, and then to reach out to opportunities to gain the knowledge or experience to get on the pathway to get there. Those we heard from mentioned the importance of being encouraged to think in this way, and the people among the Network staff and volunteers, who had kept up their hopes. It was little things that made a big difference in their aspirations, like learning how systems work in this society; being taken to see a small business, just like the one being dreamed of; being given the right clothes to go to a successful job interview; being introduced to successful business people and students, who could tell them what to do and not to do, as they followed their dreams; or being helped to find  treatment for a health condition that was making it difficult to believe in ever having a productive and satisfying future. The Network has gained the trust of the refugees we serve. With that trust comes sharing of ideas and encouragement to nurture dreams and make them reality.

For the refugees who have been brought to San Diego during the last 4 years, there are more difficult paths to tread.  Most of those from Burma, and from Bhutan, do not speak English when they arrive, and the skills brought from rural villages or from many years in a refugee camp, do not fit them for jobs available. The regulations governing the federal assistance to these newer residents have also changed in ways that make it much more difficult for them to learn how to make a new life for themselves, than it was for earlier refugee arrivals.  As we have always sought out those who were about to fall through the cracks, it is not surprising that we are finding our services needed much more often each month, and the variety of difficulties for which a remedy is being sought is also much greater than in previous years.  Both our staff and volunteers are kept very busy.

For the newer arrivals there is little chance so far, to think beyond the end of the week.  They are still in need of basic food and clothing and it will be quite some time before they can afford bus fares and learn how to reach remote official offices at which they are required to appear.  Two weeks ago I met with a group of Bhutanese refugees.  I had taken some of them to our storage area to look for warmer clothes than those in which they arrived.  One of the women asked for "pads".  On further inquiry, with the few words we had in common, I realized that she was telling me that the women were in great need of feminine hygiene products.  They cannot be bought with food stamps (even if there were enough available to buy them) and it is not surprising that such items are not high on the priority shopping list for the men, who control the expenditures of the family!  I brought them some that evening, and we are seeking a reliable monthly supply.

So for those refugees who are new  and for those who have been here longer, but have had the misfortune of losing a job or becoming ill and missing work, the bridge may be only just in sight right now, but we are hoping they will be ready to set foot on it, when a few more months have passed.  Your help is making a real difference,     Many thanks!


Mar 2, 2011

Food deliveries needed for survival

It happened again on February 18th!  It was a Friday. The telephone rang. It was a refugee who had used our services in the past and knew where to turn for help. 

"Did you know there is a family in our block of apartments that has no food for the weekend................?"  

 A conversation beginning this way frequently occurs.  When it does, a Network volunteer or staff member goes out that day with food to visit and to assess other needs, which are reported to the staff for further attention. This is one of the ways that newly arrived refugees get referred to the Network.

We deliver over 1,600 lbs of food per week to families who have no car, live far from shops and markets, and are struggling to make ends meet. Some need short term help when jobs are lost, sickness strikes, or there is a gap of several weeks between applications being filed for food stamps, and authorizations being received.  Others have complications in their lives and may need food deliveries for a longer period.

The Network drivers and a staff member or volunteer collect food from the San Diego Food Bank or Feeding America.  Although the cost of the food is relatively small, we must also take into account the costs of the time of the drivers and other staff,as they select and deliver the food, and the gas for two of our donated vehicles. To make the process as efficient as possible we make two deliveries a week, one to Karen, Karenni, Chin, Shan and Butanese refugees on Tuesday, and one to Sudanese and other refugees on Thursday.  This allows us to select as balanced a diet as is available, while at the same time taking into account the preferences of the Asian and the African refugees.  When a special local fruit or vegetable is available we also add it to the selection, and deliver it with directions on how to prepare it and its food value.

The availability of milk, eggs, fresh fruit and vegetables, and occasionally a chicken, makes a huge difference in the nutrition of those adapting to new foods and learning how to stretch meager resources and makes both children and adults more ready to do well at school and in preparing for employment.

Thanks to your generous donations, this food service has been expanding and we are seeking more volunteers to help meet the increasing requests for this vital part of the assistance we provide. Your help makes a great difference in many lives.


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