Bridge to Self Reliance 2000 refugees San Diego CA

by Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego
Staff (center) taking call from refugee
Staff (center) taking call from refugee

She was distraught and barely understandable even in her own language when she called.

" It's OK.  We can go and talk to them together", our Outreach Worker responded in Arabic, not yet knowing exactly what the problem was, but knowing that the lady calling was a recently-arrived head of household.

"No check this month.  No check. Why? Why?  I don't understand man on phone."

The mystery deepened when, later that day, the lady and our Outreach Worker reached the counter where the "man on the phone" sat with his computer. 

" We are here to discover why my client did not receive her check this month," our staff member began, giving also their names and why she was helping.

After looking up the file he announced, "She did not report her new income".  

" What new income?" 

"From the new business she has just started." 

"She has certainly not started a new business."

"I have here the records with a business started by her."

A lot of translation back and forth between the outreach worker and the lady went on.

Eventually our Outreach Worker said, "I have been helping this lady for several months.  She has not yet finished her required English classes, and definitely has not been able to start a business, or to earn any new money."

It became apparent that the lady had been the victim of identity theft.  That completely new concept had to be explained to the lady, and a whole new set of tasks grew out of clearing her record. 

Translation, transportation and a trusted person who knows you, are key to positive outcomes in cases like this. Your support makes it possible for timely and successful interventions, which keep belief in reaching self reliance a reality.




   "Alicia's apartment will be ready by next week," anounced our case worker, smiling broadly. "She is so excited about moving her family to a little space of their own. I've already taken her children all they need for school, so now we need to pack up the bedding and kitchen stuff, ready for moving day. This is where our work really begins!"  

I found myself captured by her own excitement at the challenge. "Yes. Let's get things packed," I agreed, as I reached for donated kitchen items. "Thank goodness she now regards you as a special friend, after all they have suffered. You are so good at confidence building".

"It's all of us working together," she reminded me, waving her hands toward the shelves of donated goods.  

Each time I meet a refugee who is treading the same path as Alicia, I marvel at the resilience of the refugee, and the dedication and skill of our outreach workers and volunteers. And I give thanks for all of you, our donors, who are an integral part of so many transformations.  You make transport and translation available as our case workers listen and coach. You provide emergency food, and a driver to collect donated items.  Indeed our every success story is powered by your donations, large and small.  Thank you so much for what we have achieved together.

Will you now help us to take advantage of an amazing matching fund granted to Global Giving? Bill and Melinda Gates will match all donations at 50%, up to the first $1,000,000. The date is November 29th, "Giving Tuesday", starting a minute after midnight EMT on 28th  (9.01p.m. on the 28th, Pacific Time).  Our project on the Global Giving website is eligible. 

             Donations must be made on the website. Please remember to make your donation to our project, "Bridge to Self-Reliance, 2000 Refugees in San Diego". Each individual donor, must use a separate credit card issued in his/her own name.  Can you enlist friends and contacts to join us in this competition? We need 50+ new donors (could each of you find 4?)  and as many former donors as possible, to raise a total of $5000+.   Help Alicia, and many others, to be able to raise their boys and girls as comitted productive and enthusiastic members of our society.  That will be a great leap forward!

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

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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
$36,318 raised of $80,000 goal
265 donations
$43,682 to go
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