Each year the Board of Directors of the Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego reviews what objectives we have met in the previous year, and what we have achieved. Our most urgent need in the past two years has been to raise the funds to employ two more refugee workers who speak one or more of the languages of the most recent arrivals.
The need for the services we provide has continued to increase, but our fundraising methods have not changed as much as we had planned. We set out to remedy that two years ago, and signed up for our first bonus day effort being run by Global Giving. We advised our donors well in advance and stirred up support, including arranging for three particular donors to be ready to donate at the earliest time possible. We arranged for our website to carry the information about how to donate via Global Giving, by sending very specific information to our web master, and we had in place a telephone list to urge our supporters on.
Imagine our puzzlement when no donations early in the process appeared. Then we received a message from our accountant to say thay we had received several donations from our home web page. We checked and found a small error, which was intended to help donors, but which rerouted them. By this time it was well after mid-day and we had lost the very impetus we thought we had planned for so carefully.
Why hadn't we checked our web site well in advance of the day? We had lost sight of one very small detail, because we did not think of it. We had, on previous occasions when we were using an unfamiliar process, made sure that the system worked, by havinging one of us donate first, in case of surprises. We now know that every little piece of preparation needs to be checked off and tested, and a list for that purpose now has much more on it that we just might forget!
As we are a very largely volunteer organization, and rely entirely on donations and grants, we appreciate our being a partner with Global Giving, and value the generosity of you, our donors. Please tell us what you like about our reports and what you would like to know about, that you have not seen in them. We will not be participating in the upcoming bonus day, but please look for us in the end of year giving, in December.
Last month, two refugee families each asked for beds. They did not know each other, for each had lived in a different area of San Diego County for the past five or six years.
Among those refugees who have lived in camps for many years before being brought to the United States, sleeping in a bed is often seen more as a danger than as a necessity,or a luxury; and sheets are not envisaged as a normal additions to a blanket on a bare mattress on the floor. For these refugees, sheets and pillow cases are among the first new items that become "normal", but they also present difficulties, because they cannot be washed and dried conveniently, indoors. There are rules at almost all apartment complexes that washing cannot be dried outside. Most low-income apartment buildings do not have laundry facilities, and even those that do, have machines that eat large numbers of quarters before sheets can return to the bed.
We also discovered that since a white sheet for covering a dead body IS something familiar for them, some of the refugees ask for colored sheets only, to sleep between.
So when a family that has been here for five or six years asks for beds, that is a reason to rejoice and to scurry round and find them. Their request represents a resurgence of hope - a recognition that by working more than one job, or having several members holding jobs, a family does have the means to become self-sufficient. With a down payment saved, they can move into a larger apartment, where there is room for beds. Then they can see themselves as capable of saving for items that will make their life more comfortable, and a future where each family member can be successful. Beds, a more comfortable couch, perhaps matching sheets and pillow cases - these are small signs that these families have truly begun the climb upwards towards self-sufficiency.
Your interest in the work of the Episcopal Refugee Network, and your donations, have made it possible for our staff to be there for these families, to recognize and nurture these early steps. With your help, every family that is able to see itself as beginning to succeed becomes a beacon to many other families. Two families asked for beds in September. Can we make that 6 families in October?
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.
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