One day, when delivering household goods to a family in City Heights, San Diego, I was met at the curbside by the mother. She smiled broadly, placed a very heavy box of dishes on her head, and bending her knees to clear an overhead bar at the gate, without missing a step, she disappeared up three flights of narrow stairs. I thought, "If I were suddenly set down in her country, in her rural setting, I would totally fail, because I could not carry water or other heavy weights on my head."
Finding out how to survive, and eventually prosper in a new country, requires learning many new skills. Since so many of the refugees we serve speak no English on arrival, and few can read, even in their own language; translation and explanations provided by our 5 employees who were refugees themselves, is vital. The staff are available to the families we serve, by cell phone, even when other official offices are closed: and they call ahead to make sure that children are ready to be picked up for tutoring, or for medical visits, or that someone will be home when a volunteer arrives bringing items that have been requested.
One excellent time for problem solving is when the Network's truck arrives at an apartment complex to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables. There are often family members waiting, with an official notice in hand to show to an outreach worker, to find out what it means, and what they need to do. The photo captures one of these encounters. Our outreach worker explained the letter about the need for some medical tests. She arranged to pick up the family members involved, and to be there to translate, at the appointed time. Bills are also especially puzzling to those who have spent many years in a refugee camp. The teachable moment, like the one in the photo, spreads knowledge to others in the same apartment complex, and also alerts the Network when topics need to be addressed at special group meetings.
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