Bridge to Self Reliance 2000 refugees San Diego CA

by Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego

The  women in the refugee families usually find several barriers that impeed or prevent their improving their English skills.

 For many the greatest is that their husbands see their wives as having plenty to do at home and do not encourage their contact with the wider world. For others, especially those who have been left with a number of children to raise, after a husband dies or leaves, child care, or classes when the children are at school are hard to find. And there is a third group who are working at entry level jobs, and need better language skills in order to improve their status.  For them the constant changes employers make to shifts is a major barrier.

When I asked Jalima, "What do you like best about your English coaching with Nan?"   She replied, "She always talks to me about things I need to know.  She gets things for me to read and listen to, about stuff I'm worrying about."  Each person I asked the same question used different words, but touched on the same idea.  "I am learning what I need, so I am not wasting time."  "She listens to me, and helps me explain things."   That reminded me of a conversation I had many years earlier,with a mother who pleaded,"Please can you come down every week and let me talk to you!"

There is clearly a need for those beginning to take a serious interest in improving their comprehension and writing, to start off one on one, or at most two on one, before they can benefit from computer based practice or group learning. So many of the women have had no formal education before, so their way of learning has developed on a one on one basis. We are looking for more volunteer tutors to mentor, so the coaching can result in enthusiasm for learning, leading to a variety of ways in which to progress, including using interactive computer programs. Would you like to listen in on a session to see if you would enjoy joining us.   

We are grateful to Global Giving for having encouraged us to expand our use of client feedback to explore exactly the right way to improve our programs.  Getting the students enthused has kept them attending regularly, and has led them to introduce others who want to progress effectively.  We are also grateful for all of you who, by your donations, have made it possible to obtain materials that meet individual needs. The "Aha!" moment when a concept is understood, and the eyes light up with excitement belongs to all of you.            


Ready to take on the World
Ready to take on the World

Suddenly a small figure appeared in front of me, out of the crowd in the room.  Her eyes down-cast, she was nervously shifting from one foot to the other.

"Please can you come to my graduation next week?"she said.  "I am getting a special award. My mother is working that day so she cannot come to see."

"I'd love to", I replied.  "How exciting for you to be off to Junior High next school year! That will be a very special experience."    A flicker of hope appeared in the eyes that met mine for a second.  I wrote down the details of where I was to be and when, as her instructions tumbled out.

On the day of the graduation I slipped into the room buzzing with the happy conversations of participating families and friends, and waved as I saw her scanning the audience to find me.

"Did you see me crossing the stage?" she asked, her eyes aglow.     "Oh yes," I responded. "You looked so grown-up.  I am so glad to be here.  Did you see me wave?"

Her teacher, noticing us, came and sat down at our bench, a little apart from all the other families as we all enjoyed the ice cream that had been provided.  Her kind words of congratulations on hard work and amazing progress were a further confidence builder.

Six months later, when I went to talk to a group about what being a refugee is like, I took my young protege with me. She gave an amazing and uncoached description of both her own and her mother's experiences and received with surprised delight, a standing ovation. Now she was standing tall.   Then came the high school years and now she has confidence in her own resilience, and will make a real contribution to our community.

You, the supporters of our program, are integral parts of successes like hers. Together we create the environment in which families and individuals can make the many small steps that lead  to self reliance.     Way to Go Team!

Katherine, Outreach Worker- miracle worker
Katherine, Outreach Worker- miracle worker

"What is it like to begin life in a new country when you do not know the language?" I asked.  "You feel very lonely, when you can't understand or be part of what is going on."   "Especially when you are afraid - and you are always afraid when you don't understand."  "You do not know what will happen to you, or why.  And someone always talks loudly and seems to be angry.   That brings back memories of terrible things that happened long ago."  There was no hestitation as the words spilled from our outreach workers, who had felt first-hand the distress of the clients they had helped, and the sense of empowerment they had been able to convey.  

Mostly what is needed is a translation from just one language to another.   Even in those cases, for the transfer of all the needed information, it takes an interpreter who can explain expectations, such as that parents will be at teacher-parent interviews at their child's school; or concepts like "jay-walking" that are completely foreign to our clients.  As new families arrive with new dialects or sometimes completely new languages, or sometimes have never been to school,  or have members with severe disabilities, the task of interpreting for them is much more complicated.

On Tuesday January 19th our outreach worker took an Iraqi family to their citizenship interview.  None of them has ever been to school, and none can read or write.  Katherine filled in the application forms, with their help, explaining each section carefully.   The son who has a hearing problem, was called first.  He spoke Arabic and Katherine translated for him.  The daughter who cannot speak, uses a wheel chair, and does not know sign language, was next.  The mother went with her.   The immigration officer "spoke" only American Sign Language. Translator 1 translated his questions into English. Translator 2 asked the mother each question in Arabic. The mother answered in Arabic and the response went back through the same translators to the Immigration Officer.  The interview took a considerable amount of time.   While this is the most extreme case we have encountered, it illustrates how complicated the interfaces can be between the refugees who get referred to us, because they have needs beyond the usual ones that are easily provided for.   

Your help is what makes it possible for us to make sure that the refugees we serve can get transport and support so they can reach the right office and successfully take the right steps to reach their full potential. Thank you for all you've  done for us. Please let your friends know why you chose to support us, and encourage them to join our team. 

A different visit with diapers
A different visit with diapers
Long Lost Father
Long Lost Father

We could hardly believe it was really happening.  He was actually here after years and years of waiting. I could not believe it until I could see him with my own eyes. The miles flew by but they seemed as if they would go on for ever. But then there we were, going through the security gate to the appartment complex, that had been propped open in expectation of our arrival.

The screen door to the apartment opened to my knock, and there he stood, uncertain, shy. For the longest few seconds time stood still, before the excitement burst out as our hands met, and we were enveloped in hugs from the whole family.

"Thank you, Thank you," he said, his eyes glistening. He had so much to tell us, but his English classes had barely begun. However, in no time at all we were deep in conversation with the help of his daughter-in-law as translator.  "I know you were working hard to find out why my paperwork was held up for so long", he said.  "It was so hard to be the only one in my family to be left behind in the refugee camp.  First my wife and our daughters left for San Diego. Two years later my son and his wife left to join them. But it took more than 5 more years for my permission to leave came.  It would have been even longer if you had not been writing and calling and speaking to people in this country and in Nepal, who could help me. That was what kept me believing I would soon be here."

His first grandchild, a mischievous two-year-old girl, had already won his heart, and he was happy and secure in the household with his extended family where he belongs. His son was eager to tell us about the classes he was taking to enable him to work in the construction of new buildings, and his plans to become a contractor with whom his father could work.  The  Network will continue to help, especially providing warm clothing for the father with winter on its way; and finding volunteers to provide language coaching for both father and son.  Because the sadness of the long separation is over, the energy released suddenly opens up all sorts of possibilities for this creative and courageous family.

 As you are part of our team, you are part of this joyous celebration, and of the huge difference we can make together, in many refugee lives.  Many thanks.

Always popular
Always popular

"We never get to eat bananas," the six-year old commented, looking longingly at the 29 skins discarded along the pathway the children had been using.

His mother held one banana saved for her husband, who was sick.  A fleeting smile slid across her face as the children checked once again, that there were no more hiding among the bags of school clothes they had carried in to the house, from the volunteer's car. 

"Let's see what fits," the mother suggested, and the fashion parade began.

As each child modelled a different outfit, the volunteer made herself a note, " Needs regular food delivery - add to list." That was a critical turning point for the family.

Today, ten years later, the three youngest of those seven children are now in jumior high, or high school school.  The four oldest have all graduated. Three of those four have gone on to a Community College, where one became a star football player and hopes to transfer to a university. The youngest of the four received a scholarship because of her excellent grades at high school, and is already doing well at university. 

The list is still in effect, changing from time to time as a family gains more work hours, or another  runs into a major difficulty. As one of its activities, every month the Network now delivers up to 2,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables on each of eight days, to the homes of the most needy of our families. Each family on the list receives two deliveries per month, with particular ethnic groups targeted on each day. This allows us to collect food that is acceptable to each group and to introduce new foods from time to time. It also allows us to add eggs and milk and  provide household necessities; or to look at letters that need translating; or set up appointments those letters require, and provide transport and translation. This is often among the earliest steps towards self-sufficiency.

Your donations keep our truck on the road, and provide more of our most needy families with nutritious food.  Together we are building more healthy refugee families and more children alert and ready to learn.


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Organization Information

Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego

Location: San Diego, California - USA
Website: http:/​/​​links.htm
Project Leader:
Elaine McLevie
Encinitas, CA United States
$23,745 raised of $80,000 goal
180 donations
$56,255 to go
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