I recently signed up with RefugeeOne to mentor a refugee family from Rwanda. Mentors make weekly home visits to help newly-arrived refugees become self-sufficient and acclimate to American culture. Most mentors don’t get the opportunity to meet the family at the airport, so I was very excited to meet them and work with them from the very beginning.The mother, Agnes, and her five children (ages five to sixteen) arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport with only two small suitcases and travel documents. Along with RefugeeOne staff, I greeted the family with flowers, and we drove them to their new Chicago home. When we arrived at the apartment, I showed them how to turn on a lamp, use the shower, and work the stove. After eating lunch together, we left so the family could rest. They were exhausted since they’d been in transit for over 30 hours.Two weeks later, I met the family for our first mentorship meeting. I was a little nervous, but as soon as the family heard the word “teacher,” they pulled out notepads with the alphabet written on them, and we spent the first lesson reading and writing the letters. After two hours of practice, Agnes and the three oldest children could recite every letter of the alphabet, except H (it’s a tricky one).The next week, I took the family to a local agency to get clothes. Since the family arrived with a very limited supply of clothing, we ended up getting a lot of clothes. In fact, I wasn’t sure how we would carry everything! Fortunately, Agnes had an idea; she tied a jacket around the bulk of the clothes, then carried them on her head all the way home without dropping them.The following week, the children and I colored together. Crayons and markers were a huge hit! Later, when we read a book about the alphabet, it was obvious that everyone had been practicing because they were much more confident. Agnes can look at words and sound them out very well. She likes to open the dictionary and read the words in English, asking what each one means. I translate with the help of a smartphone and hand gestures. Agnes and her children are eager to learn more, and I think they're going to do very well. I look forward to seeing the progress they make as they adjust to life in the U.S.Note: RefugeeOne welcomed 447 refugees during Fiscal Year 2014. Juliana is one of 400 volunteers who assist RefugeeOne each year. If you’re interested in volunteering with RefugeeOne, visit our website at www.refugeeone.org and complete an application.
As we listen to the horrific news of ISIS’ terror campaign in Iraq, our hearts go out to Iraqis around the world. RefugeeOne is privileged to have resettled hundreds of Iraqi families and individuals in recent years. We’re glad to share this hopeful story of one of those families with you.
Several years ago, RefugeeOne resettled an Iraqi father and his two young children. When the man’s wife was unable to leave Iraq with the rest of the family, the separation threw him into a paralyzing depression. He had a nervous breakdown shortly after arrival, could not keep his job, and became unable to care for his children. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services removed the children from his home and placed them in foster care.
RefugeeOne worked actively to restore this man and his family back to health. Staff provided extensive individual therapy and coordinated all aspects of his care with the court-appointed social worker and family therapist, foster parents, court attorneys, and a psychiatrist. The efforts led to measurable improvements. Program staff, his psychiatrist, court witnesses, and the client himself recognized his improved mental state and ability to be a good father. He achieved self-identified goals for recovery, learned English, looked for employment, and complied with therapy. Over time, he no longer needed medication. He became less focused on basic survival and moved to planning for the future.
We are overjoyed to report that with the help of RefugeeOne, his children were returned to him with full custody and that after two years of separation he was reunited with his wife. When she arrived at O’Hare Airport, she was welcomed with tears of joy by her husband, daughter, and son.
The parents are now focused on their children’s health and education, and the children are excelling in RefugeeOne’s after-school program. Thanks to RefugeeOne’s services, this family’s dark hours and hopeless days are behind them, and they are living their daily lives with mental and emotional health. We feel honored to be part of this story of recovery and new life.
Thank YOU for being part of this story. Your gifts to RefugeeOne make it possible for refugees to build the foundations for flourishing lives in the U.S.
School is out and that means our Summer Youth Program is under way! Our summer day camp runs from June through August, providing about 100 refugee children with recreational and academic enrichment activities every week. Activities include beach days, field trips to the zoo and museums, bowling, soccer, character development activities, community service projects, health workshops, reading, writing, and math games. This year’s theme is “The Arts,” so there is sure to be plenty of arts, crafts, and theatre! Throughout the summer, youth will create their own mini-plays in groups, focusing on the core elements of writing: plot, character, theme, conflict, and setting.
The Summer Youth Program’s goal is to ensure that refugee youth have opportunities for socialization and development during the summer and that they are on track to begin the next school year. Through assisting refugee youth, the program also assists their parents, who are often busy finding work, learning English, and adjusting to life in the US.
On Wednesday, June 25th, GlobalGiving will match all donations in support of RefugeeOne’s Youth Program at 100%! If that isn’t reason enough to donate, World Refugee Day was June 20th so it’s a perfect time to support refugees. Matching funds are limited, so mark your calendar to make your gift here at 11:00 am CST on June 25th.
Like many refugee youth, Panaporn’s schooling was interrupted multiple times. But with hard work, dedication, and some help from RefugeeOne’s Youth Program, Panaporn has been able to excel in her education and build a strong foundation for her future.
Panaporn was born in Thailand. Before she was born, her family had fled conflict in Burma/Myanmar between the government and ethnic-based groups. After 13 years of living in Thailand, Panaporn relocated to a refugee camp on the border, leading to a wave of changes in her life. Panaporn had spent all of her young life living in Thailand with Thai people. She was now living with refugees from Burma, a country she only knew about through stories from her elders. She had to make new friends, learn a new culture, and speak a new language.
Because of this change, Panaporn had to start afresh in school. So at 13, she entered 3rd grade. She says, “I was taller than everyone in the class.” However, Panaporn progressed through school quickly, eventually skipping ahead to 9th grade.
After working so hard to catch up to her peers in school, Panaporn again had to interrupt her education. Her father lost his job, and with her mother ill at home, Panaporn had little choice but to drop out of school and begin working as a teacher and interpreter in order to help support her sick mother and younger brother.
When Panaporn was 15, her family was resettled to Chicago in search of greater opportunities, but once again uprooting her life and her education. She had to start all over for a second time – making new friends, learning a new culture, and speaking a new language. But this time, Panaporn had the support of RefugeeOne’s Youth Program. RefugeeOne helped Panaporn to enroll in school, “catch up” to the level of her American peers, engage with other refugees who shared similar stories, and apply for financial aid. Thanks to her hard work, along with the support of RefugeeOne’s Youth Program, Panaporn recently graduated high school and is excited to attend Northeastern Illinois University in the fall.
Panaporn is proud to be the first member of her family to attend college. Her goal is to become a social worker one day so that she can help other refugees like herself. She says, “I feel like they (refugees) are my brothers or sisters… I can feel how hurt they are so I want to help them.”
Thanks to donors, RefugeeOne’s Youth Program is able to support many refugee youth like Panaporn. Through after-school tutoring and mentoring programs, along with parent education and school advocacy, RefugeeOne supports over 200 youth per year as they strive to learn English and succeed in a new educational system and culture.
Despite Panaporn’s many life changes, one thing that has remained consistent is her passion for music. Panaporn is a talented singer/songwriter who has written and performed songs in many languages. Click the link below to hear her beautiful performance at RefugeeOne’s gala.
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