He was struggling to urge his wheelchair across the room to a spot where he could join an informational meeting for Karen refugees arranged by the Network. That was what caught the eye of one of our staff members. He spoke with sadness of the day when he was forced to walk ahead of soldiers, who were clearing land mines near his home village, and lost his legs when he stepped on one. He shared his feelings of depression at not being able to get out and about, as he could not get his wheelchair to move with ease. A ray of hope flashed for a moment in his eyes, as a staff member promised to get him a wheelchair that worked, and flared to excitement when we delivered it to him two days later.
The next time we saw him he was with a group of Karen refugees at a special forum at the University of San Diego, sitting in his wheelchair, wearing his colorful festive Karen sarong and headband, and chatting animatedly with other people gathered there.
When staff or volunteers meet families in their homes, or arrive with a load of food at an apartment complex, they also have opportunities to talk with refugees about needs they have no way of addressing. In many cases the families are unaware that solutions to their problems can be found. The young man in today's photo has just received a letter which he needs help reading and responding to. He is about to hand it to a staff member, who will talk to him about its contents and arrange for any appointments it says are necessary, as well as making sure that any access problems are identified and corrected. There is no elevator in that appartment building, and the sidewalk does not look very smooth!
It is at times like these that we also hear about other members of a refugee's extended family, or a friend, perhaps living somewhere else in San Diego county, about whom the speaker is concerned. Problems big and small that we solve together, change from stumbling blocks to stepping stones. The transformations, especially from depression at what seems unsurmountable, to elation at having found ways of dealing with a situation, are very exciting.
A big "Thanks!" is due to all of you who donate to our project. You are the catalysts in a process that truly lifts spirits and changes lives.
She was lying in her mother's arms, the center of attention, love and awe. For family members and Refugee Network volunteers alike, there was an almost electrical feeling in the air. Here she was, the first baby born in San Diego to a Bhutanese refugee family.
It is the children among the refugees who give the adults a reason to hope for the future, and a reason to undertake sometimes Herculean efforts to "make it" in their new homeland, so that those children will succeed. This baby is already that hope for the 20 Bhutanese families here.
The children are also a critical component in helping adult refugees learn English and understand some of the ways this society works. It is often through children who come to our tutoring programs or whom our outreach workers encounter, that we are made aware of special needs or concerns we need to address. For example, when we discovered that three children had not been attending school, we found that their single mother had been sick, and had not been able to drive them there. We also found that her car was no longer working. Network staff and volunteers provided food and transport, repaired the car, gave special tutoring to the children to catch them up in their lost weeks of schooling, and continued to help the mother.
The Refugee Network reaches out especially to those refugees who, for whatever reason are in special need, and do not know where to turn. That is more than two hundred families at any given time, touching the lives of more than 4,000 individuals in any year, of whom over 2,500 are children and over 800 are young adults. In 2013 your donations through Global Giving provided help like the example above to 23 familes from 5 different ethnic groups. That is awsome! Please continue to let others know about our project and what drew you to support it. We would love to have your input on what we could do to spread the word about how a little help at a critical time keeps hope alive. That makes a huge difference.
This month 3 new refugee families from Myanmar, Dafur and Iraq have been referred to us, and a backlog of others is on the way. 10 children and 11 adults are included in the new families. Keeping our stock of warm clothing and basic household goods up, so that no none is turned away without items they need is always a concern in the winter months. Today 15 new blankets, collected for the Network, are arriving at staff meeting. All of them will be needed immediately, as the wind whistles under the doors of the tiny apartments, in City Heights, Normal Heights, El Cajon and other areas of San Diego County, and family members huddle together for warmth. Sometimes, at this time of year, there is far less fresh produce available to us from the food bank and Feeding America, for distribution to our needy families; so we need to be ready to add rice, cooking oil and protein more frequently.
The colder months are also the time when life seems much harder and more intimidating for those who have been uprooted, and have gone through the horrors of wars, or ethnic cleansing. The challenges seem to loom larger, and depression often follows, for newcomers and for those who have been here longer, alike. Socks and warm clothing are critical in restoring hope. A kettle, some bed pillows or a packet of diapers can lift jaded spirits, as well as fill an urgent need.
Your donations have kept our small truck on the road, bringing the things that make survival seem possible to families in distress. They enable us to buy urgently needed items like medicine, or glasses for someone with badly blurred vision. And they also enable our paid refugee staff, with their knowledge of languages and customs, to be an uplifting presence in the lives of the many families they encounter day to day. Thank you, one and all.
Please also consider helping us in another way to bring health, joy and hope into the lives of those we serve. The Network's project on Global Giving's web site, "Bridge to Self-Reliance - 2000 refugees in San Diego", is one of those competing for bonus money from Global Giving, in their first ever, end of year fundraising program. We have already raised $5,845.00 and so far we have the fourth highest total. The bonus of $500 goes to each of the 9 projects that raises the most money, but only if we have 30 individual donors, before December 30 at 9p.m. Pacific Time. We still need 24!. Each donation needs to be made on the form on Global Giving's website, and each donor needs to use a different credit card to be counted. Please consider being one of the needed donors, and please spread the word to your family, friends and colleagues. We need your help to find 24 donors of $20 (or more) in the next 10 days.
When I answered the phone I immediately recognised the voice - a member of a very large family, that had been helped by the Refugee Network during various periods of stress over more than 12 years. This time there was no anxiety in her voice for any of the extended family, but wonderful news about how so many of them had built on the the help they had received from the Network and had taken advantage of educational opportunities which had put them well on the way to making a success of their lives.
The Network had been particularly anxious about the the 7 children who were of school age when the family first arrived. Besides providing beds, clothing, food and household items, the Network provided special advice to the two oldest daughters and the oldest son, and individual tutoring for three younger sons and a younger daughter, to develop their writing and comprehension skills, and to assist in their understanding of word problems in Math. Two joined the turoring groups that the Network was running for Southern Sudanese refugee children, and two younger ones were doing well once they became old enough for elementary school.
The Network provided boots and uniforms for one high school child to play on the school basketball team and one on the football team, and hired an instrument for the child at junior high school so she could be in the school music program. Once the two oldest girls turned 18 they took jobs and left home, as did the older boy, but he stayed in the area and was a frequent visitor at the family apartment. The two boys who had been tutored both went on to Community College where the football player received help from the Network with books and equipment, and the oldest boy also attended Community College to improve his job skills. He reported that he would not have had the incentive to do that, if he had not received encouragement from the volunteer tutor from the Network, who had been working with his brothers.
The news that most delighted the Network staff and volunteers, was that the junior high school student who had shown such promise, was now a freshman in University. She had been encouraged by the aunt who had telephoned, to carry on her education, and to stay near her mother as support, when her father died recently. The aunt reported that, as a freshman, this daughter was developing into a very self-reliant and capable young woman, and felt sure that the assistance she received from Network volunteers was the firm basis on which her educational success had depended.
As new families arrive, each is visited by Network staff and family members' needs are assessed. It is always so encouraging when we hear of successes that result from our interventions, that set young people on the path to preparing themselves for a brighter future. Without those interventions it is difficult for those who arrive as teenagers with no English language skills to make any headway at school. That makes it very difficult to prevent their dropping out and joining the ranks of the unemployable. It enthuses us when we receive reinforcing phone calls like this one.
Every year the Network impacts the lives of at least 2,000 refugees, of whom 1,333 are under the age of 21. Your involvement makes a huge difference in the successes of those whose lives we touch together. Many many thanks to all of you who have provided support for this program.
We particularly would request your involvement in our effort to raise $3,000 from at least 30 individual donors between 9p.m. on Saturday November 30, 2013, and 8.55p.m. on December 31st (Pacific Time) through our project site on Global Giving. This will make us eligible for consideration by a corporate donor interested in educational opportunities for young people. Since that aspect of our work is the one many of you have told us drew your attention, please let us know how you think we can best reach others like you, who would be enthusiastic supporters of our work. And please encourage your friends and colleagues to look at our project on the Global Giving web site, and help us to reach our December target , of at least $3,000, from at least 30 different donors.
We would love to qualify for a bonus by being one of the top 9 fundraisers in this first-ever year end campaign at Global Giving. Can you help us? Together we can continue to make a major difference in the lives of these new Americans, who face so many hurdles on their way to self-reliance.
Last week, visits to two mothers of new babies gave a new perspective on the complications refugees encounter in their transition to life in a new country. Both mothers had given birth before, but in different countries, and under very different circumstances. The Karen mother, whose previous children had been born in a refugee camp, was overwhelmed by the pre-natal check-ups - something neither had experienced before. The time, the need to arrange transport and translation, and the check-ups themselves were unexpected.
The Sudanese mother was struggling to believe that germs that you cannot see can cause sickness and death. A volunteer from the Refugee Network provided materials, demonstrated more thorough cleaning and storage procedures, especially in the kitchen, and provided containers for storing rice and cereal.
Both mothers were traumatized by having to be in a hospital for the birth. In their experience before coming to the United States, anyone entering a hospital was unlikely to come out alive. The birth process, not assisted by female relatives, was something they could not even imagine. Then they could not leave the hospital without a car seat, even though they did not own a car!
The process of obtaining a birth certificate was also puzzling. They did not know the actual date of birth of any of their previous children, only the season. Now there are check-ups both for the mother and the baby, and a host of new requirements to be adjusted to, as the baby grows.
In these transitions, the presence of trusted guides, supporters, and outreach workers who can translate, makes a huge difference.
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