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!
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