Bridge to Self Reliance 2000 refugees San Diego CA

by Episcopal Refugee Network of San Diego Vetted since 2010

She stood in the doorway, a pile of household goods placed skillfully on her head, her face lit by a huge smile.  Central treasure in the pile was a blue enamel stock pot.  Spotless and gleaming it represented for her, the right kind of evening meal. 

"Now everyone in my family will share the pieces of chicken and the fresh vegetables", she said to our staff member.  A communal meal - a return to what had been the glue that held the family together - that was what she had yearned for most of all.

For the families still arriving from Africa and the Middle East, some semblance of what the parents think of as "normal" is difficult to achieve in a community that has different norms and expectations. 

With the added stress that comes from having escaped wars and many years in refugee camps, refugees need frequent interaction with new "friends", who can explain, coach and look for ways to provide the stock pot, or the clothes for a job interview. Someone who can speak their language can raise the spirits; and maintain hope, that is the essential ingredient in succeeding, in this new environment. That is where you, the donors who support this project, play such an integral role.   Your donations make it possible to keep our vehicles on the road collecting and delivering items that are part of each refugee's dream.  That stock pot is a catalyst. It is one wish come true.  It is a symbol that things may turn out well after all. Its arrival will be a special memory on which hope for the future depends. 

Thank you all, for your generous support of our project.  Please consider reminding your friends and colleagues about the satisfaction you receive from knowing about the many successes that your donations have brought about.  The refugees in San Diego County still need our combined efforts to achieve dream after dream. And when we hear of the job offer, or the medical problem resolved, we can all share in that joy.

With much appreciation,

Elaine McLevie

Items ready to pack
Items ready to pack

"Another fifteen?  Where are these new requests coming from?  Did you get the fifteen I sent to you on Thursday?  And what about the 7 for women?  Who are they for?"

I was amazed how many requests for backpacks with appropriate school supplies we received between June and October 2017; far more than in that period in earlier years.  "Thank goodness for the 100 we had on hand especially earmarked for families who are newly arrived," I thought, "but what else is going on here?"

We had already gathered from donors who regularly help us in this way, 253 backpacks, each carefully marked for an elementary, junior high, or high school child; but each day there were more names appearing on the list.

"I took backpacks to the new family in City Heights', reported Katherine.  "I wish you could have seen the proud look on the faces of the six members of that family who are of school age.  They each put on the right sized bag and paraded past me, showing it, as if it was a king's robe.   They could not have been happier."    The larger average family size now is a factor.  Then again, many children need a bigger pack and different supplies because they are moving up into a different school.  And there are also back packs that become soiled or torn and have to be discarded.  And few refugee families can find the money for the costs involved.

Here we are at the end of January, and we had to gather another 264 packs beyond the original 253, plus the 7 that were requested by women going to English classes and to other learning experiences.  Special thanks is due to the local donors who willingly scoured the shops for rapidly disappearing backpacks, in order to make sure the children and some of their mothers could join their classes looking like real students.  And thanks to all of you who make it possible for staff to make those lists and deliver the appropriate backpacks. 

"I have never been to school before", confided one high-schooler. "Now I have the same things that other kids have.  It makes me feel not so scared."   What an important step towards his future success!

choosing the right one
choosing the right one

  "Something strange is happening", reported one of our caseworkers, as a group of staff and volunteers was sharing experiences.  " Three different times in the past six months, I have met a young mother, who looked energetic and full of enthusiasm as she collected a food donation or found clothes or household items in our storage area. And then each of them died, less than 4 days later. That has never happened before."

That was certainly startling and we set about wondering what the connection might be.  We knew that the men in most  refugee communities often become very depressed when they can not find jobs which provide them with any standing or dignity. Some also find it even more demeaning to share responsibilities for money and child raising with their wives, which is expected of them in the United States.  So we had been making sure we provided enouragement and help, to avoid their falling into depression.

But the women?  They had always seemed to be the strength of the family group - the ones on which survival actually depends.

"Don't forget that whenever we write back to our relatives we always make it seem as if everything is going well for us here, even when we are facing major difficulties," another former refugee staff member added, "and it seems like an admission of weakness if we have to ask for help."

"That is pretty much the same for those of us who are not former refugees," a volunteer chimed in.  "When we are asked, 'How are you?',  we know, somehow, that the right answer is 'Fine'- not a long list of our health problems or our anxieties".

We all agreed that, when the complications of an unfamiliar set of expectations becomes too much to handle, it is not surprising that a person loses all hope and cannot keep up a positive approach, or the facade of having everything under control.  That led to a discussion about roles women are expected to play. We resolved that we would make a conscious effort to ask even the most confident mother or father, what she or he is really experiencing. And we talked about listening with great care to what is said, and noticing the clues that show things that are not being said.  That kind of sharing is so important to the feeling of belonging that we value, both for our staff and volunteers, and for the families we serve. 

Because our staff and volunteers are skilled at forging relationships with refugee families, they are the key to building the trust that ensures that self-reliance grows steadily and despondency is kept at bay. While they provide the core of what the Network does, you, the donors, provide the energy that fills that core with life, through your donations. You touch the lives of every refugee family we serve.

We invite you once again to share in our end of year matching funds experience with GlobalGiving, early in December. We will need every one of you to make sure we meet the number of donors and the number of dollars that we need in order to have those dollars matched.  In my next report I will be sure to include the details.  Go team!

"I am thrilled you can come", she responded when I called. "This will be a very happy day for me."  And what an amazing day it was, marking the graduation from high school of the last of her five children, all of whom she had guided and supported on her own, ever since the family's arrival as refugees, over 20 years ago. 

When the Refugee Network first began, Agnes, a single mother, was hired as the first outreach worker.  She expertly juggled helping other newly arrived refugees and providing for her family.  " I want to make sure my children get a good education, and can find jobs," she told us. "I don't want them to have to struggle to make ends meet, like me."

She decided that the children would have better chances of doing well in a school away from the crowded inner city, where she lived, so she began looking for possible locations. When she read that a new housing complex was being built in North County, 35 miles north, in a more affluent community, and that a section of affordable housing would be required there, she put her savings into a down payment on an apartment there, before it was built.

When the time came, the move proved daunting.  "I didn't want her to move away from us all", said her sister - a sentiment shared by all of her Sudanese friends.  The children were at first nervous of their new schools, where there were no others from Sudan, and they had to make new friends. Network volunteers helped with tutoring and community connections.   But it was Agnes's determination to do whatever it took to have the children succeed, that made the dream come true. She made lots of personal sacrifices along the way, and had to make many changes of job to create her new life in North County, but now it was the time for celebration.  

The room was full of well-wishers, impressed with what  each of her children had accomplished, and the self-confidence with which each was looking forward to making a difference in the world, because of the education beyond high school that each had chosen. They were an inspiration to the other young refugees present.

"Agnes worked very hard," said her sister, a little wistfully, as I sat beside her.

Helping refugees envision a promising future is a key feature of the Refugee Network's successes.  Because of the assistance so many of you provide, there are other parents like Agnes, (and sometimes grandmothers who arrived in charge of a family of grandchildren) who have had the courage to help their young family members "dream big".

 Our volunteers find coaches in all sorts of businesses and professions who can smooth the way for a head of household or a student, who needs to know more about preparing to be successful in a chosen field.  A visit to a work site can make a dream seem more within reach.  And your donations provide a suit for a job interview or part of a needed inventory for a tiny store, textbooks and calculators, suplemental healthy food to keep eyes bright and brains active, or transportation to a job site, or to tutoring.  

That is why I want you to be able to see with your mind's eye, that small sitting room jammed full of friends and relatives, and to feel the excitement that your help has made possible. I want you to share in the sparkle in the eyes of the new high school graduate, preparing to start at Palomar College in the fall, and of the eldest daughter who finished a degree and married a professional photographer. She has just recently returned from helping him with a documentary on Ruanda. Another daughter is excited about her training to be a pastor. Then there is a son, who at his elementary school, won an essay competition sponsored by the Chargers Football Team.  The prize was payment of his expenses at a University, if he kept a high grade point average each year through high school.  He did that and has now completed his degree. You are part of the team that built that confidence and supported those dreams.  You are with us there in the center of this celebration.



A Yyoung Karen Refugee
A Yyoung Karen Refugee

"I don't know what to do.  My bank has sent me a letter.  I do not understand what it says.   Please can you help me?"  The diminutive Karen lady had arrived 3 months earlier with her children, from a camp in Thailand. She stood, looking up, her forehead furrowed with worry, as her words tumbled out.

"Let's see what it says," replied our caseworker, puzzled that the lady had a bank. It became clear that she did, and that the letter listed all the services for which she needed to make a monthly payment.

"Why did you open a bank account?" asked the outreach worker.

"My friends all said everyone in America needs a bank account, so I went to the bank.  A nice lady set up an account for me. She told me all the things I would need to make it safe."

Gently the case worker explained," You will need a bank account soon.  But first we have to help you finish your English classes and find a job. Let's go to the bank together.  We will ask the lady to open the account when you have a job."    After the two succeeded in closing the account without charges, the conversation was carried on over many days, to explore and explain the ways banks work and the importance of having your money (when you have some!) in an account in a safe place. 

The bank employee, like the Karen lady, had also been operating on some unfounded assumptions.  She had some clients who were refugees and who had steady income, but did not recognise that this new client was so recently arrived; was not understanding all the information she was being given; and did not yet have a current source of income that would require a bank account.  The complex concepts involved and the Karen lady's limited English vocabulary led to misunderstandings that took some careful unraveling.

We are very proud of the caring way that our outreach workers help our refugees come to understand concepts for which they have no prior experience on which to build, and very grateful to you, our donors, who make their work possible. Together we build the confidence and understanding of these new community members, who are so eager to do the right thing, and to become fully engaged.

a food delivery
a food delivery
a Darfuri mother, a load and a small child
a Darfuri mother, a load and a small child
A Karen father and children
A Karen father and children

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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
Carlsbad, CA United States
$58,001 raised of $80,000 goal
331 donations
$21,999 to go
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