This week, Kelsey and I visited the family for our usual homework session. We suggested taking the kids to the Halloween party not expecting that their mother would agree. On several occassions, we’ve suggested outings, and she’s always shaken her head no, leaving us unable to understand what exactly she objected to. However, this time she readily agreed to let us take the two kids.
The kids really enjoyed decorating the masks and carving pumpkins, and as usual, the younger sister made everyone laugh with her antics. It was so good to see that we had so many winter clothes to offer the families. My family is generally well-equipped but the boy chose a few things for his family and we found gloves for him and his sister. On our way over to Loyola, the kids were quite cold and I realized that though they aren’t lacking basic necessities as some families are, something as simple as gloves can make a big difference.
Sometimes I worry that the kids don’t have any leisure activities and that their lives are monotonous, but they do go to the park, the library, and they visit with their friends. While they do have some pasttimes and opportunities to get out beyond their home and school, I was very happy to be able to provide them with another experience.
I haven’t written a blog post in awhile…Jason and I hadn’t seen my family for almost two weeks because of a few miscommunications and because they we’re sick and the next week I was really sick. SO, I’ll write more than usual this time. When I went to see my family, I was a little nervous about going by myself, but I prepared some ESL stuff, got together some clothes and things that I have been wanting to bring to them, and just went finally. I’ve missed them and I could tell that they had missed me too. The last time we were at their apartment, the baby had a sore near his mouth, a bacterial infection, and the family asked us questions like could we get them medicine for it and could we make a doctor’s appointment for them since their doctors appointments weren’t until the next week. I really wasn’t sure how to go about this since I knew I couldn’t do much about it, aside from call the health director at the ECAC, which I did. But it made me happy to know that they trusted us enough to ask our opinions — it’s really the first time they opened up about a problem to Jason and I.
When I went to see them today, we just picked up where we left off. It seemed that at least part of the family had nice, almost new winter coats and I was very surprised that when the dad came in with the 3 year old, the boy was wearing overall snowpants under his coat. I think maybe Jason and I scared them a little last time about winter when we told them it sometimes lasts for 5 months. We were just trying to help them understand what to expect, because the last time we were at their house was the week where it was really, really cold — for October. I don’t think it’s funny because I know the Chicago winter will be extra-difficult for them since they have never experienced winter temperatures before, but I had to smile when I saw the little boy in his snowpants. I’m just really happy they seem to have a lot of warm things now.
Today we talked about Halloween and carving pumpkins, and I had printed off pictures of pumpkins in a field, people carving pumpkins, and finished jack-o-lanterns to show them the process. I also showed them some pictures of Halloween parties with people in costumes and we talked about them. The mom and 12 year old daughter shared the Tigrinya words for “pumpkin” and “candy” with me. The daughter seemed to know a lot about Halloween and to be excited about it — she told me they had a party at her classroom. I printed off the map Dr. Amick sent to us and gave that to them as well as the invite — they seemed pretty excited to come to the party tomorrow, and I’m excited too.
Before I left, I tried to help the dad work the new (bigger) t.v., but to no avail. All in all it was a good visit, finished with buna and popcorn of course. I was worried about going for nothing — I felt totally at ease the whole time.
I visited my Congolese family this evening and pretty sure it was one of my best nights in awhile. They’ve been my family since last spring so we have a great relationship and I always know that I’m going to leave with a smile on my face. The daughters in my family are always so exhausted after school, especially on Fridays so we just hang out when I’m there on Fridays and relax. When I got here I noticed they had a new telephone, and immediately they asked if I could help set up the answering machine. I didn’t have much experience setting up answering machines but figured it out after reading the manual a few times. I told them they could record themselves. The girls were so excited about this. I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into though. Their message had to be PERFECT. And in both English and French. I told them that was a great idea because they have friends that speak both languages and they wanted to be able to communicate their message to them. Everyone in the family took a turn recording their version of the message each trying multiple times. I screwed them up a lot because they kept making me laugh. It was a lot of fun. 1 hour later we finally had a message perfected…but then the dad came home and the process started over.
The girls love to listen to music, so we were listening to music on youtube. They put on I wanna dance with somebody by Whitney Houston, so of course we all dancing around the room. We spent the next 40 minutes or so dancing to songs that are often played at wedding receptions. This visit reminded me how powerful singing and dancing can be. It allows you to escape from all your stresses and worries and appreciate the good things you have in life.
This week hasn’t been as hands-on as previous weeks for me. Due to sickness and scheduling conflicts, Margaret and I haven’t been able to visit our refugee family. Despite this, I’ve been thinking many thoughts about my experience. The combination of last class session’s material and my presence at the ECAC on Thursday have had a lot to do with this. I keep ruminating over the fact that volunteerism is pre-planned into the budgeting of refugee resettlement. It bothers me that what we’re doing isn’t supplemental but rather pre-calculated as a part of the solution. It’s comparable to being a waiter or waitress and relying and being tax on tip money. It just doesn’t seem just.
Additionally, I’ve been pondering over the concept of whether it is more just to bring people from the Global South into the United States when they have so few resources once they’re here. The more I think about it the more I feel like we’re just transporting problems rather than solving them. Too many people get left behind. Development should be our primary focus, but this seems often to be an impractical solution for various reasons.
What is our role in all of this? That still remains unclear to me. I can’t imagine ignoring the problems here on the ground in Chicago, but the more I think about the legality of the issue the less certain I am of the implicit social justice. Ultimately, I guess I’m stuck making the conclusion that there are always multiple ways to solve a problem. One may be more just while another is more likely or more realistic. My personal power is finite, but not as limited as those I’m seeking to help. So, in this context my role is to help those that are here both directly and by trying to form a lobby to help them gain a greater recognition as well as try to prevent the causes of displacing that make refugees refugees.
This doesn’t directly apply to the family that Paige and I are now working with, but I still want to talk about it because I find it relevant and illustrative of how what we learn in this class can be expanded to other areas of our lives.
I volunteer with some children in the Chicago area. I always thought that a few of them were immigrants of some sort because they were just learning English even though they were in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. I never even really thought about the possibility that they could be refugees. However, this year, that thought struck me as I was working with them. I asked them where they are from and they told me. It is a country in Africa that many people would not recognize as such if they heard the name.
Because I think that I have a little bit better idea now of where these kids come from, I have more ideas about things that they might like to learn/ might be useful for them. I worked with one little boy, and we looked at my planner and talked about the different days and how to tell when something is planned on a certain day. We talked a little bit about Halloween. And the student I was working with seemed extremely interested in my planner. He wanted to hold it and ask questions and look over it. At the end, I wrote some notes for things that I wanted to do for him for when I next volunteer (like get him some resources in his own language). I joked with him and said, “How does that make you feel that you are now in my planner? Scared? Nervous? Happy? Excited?” When I said excited, he shook his head up and down and smiled.
I can’t wait to see both him again soon as well as the family I am working with through this class. Each time is an opportunity to learn something new.
our visit mostly consists of helping our family with their homework. we help the mom with her english homework and son with whatever homework he has from school, either math or english. he had a very lengthy reading which Kim very successfully helped him with! they even did the part for thursday.
I was attempting to help the mom with her english homework which also turned out well!
we always feel bad for the grandpa because he doesn’t really speak english and kind of drifts between when we help out with the homework. but yesterday i was determined to change this! i took an algebra book and decided that we will start learning what’s on the pictures. it was a lot of fun. we also had a neighbor participate in our little game who was able to translate if i had a hard time with explaining. we ran into a picture of a skeleton dinosaur. i said that we have one here in chicago and said we will go see it soon! the grandpa was extremely excited and he can’t wait for our visit to field museum!
we usually try to bring something for our family since they always feed us with something delicious! yesterday we brought pears and they never had them before and really enjoyed the taste so that made us really happy! we also found out the their neighbor who just got here is starting school soon so my dilemma was solved.
We arrived relatively late last Thursday, so we decided that instead of carving up pumpkins, we’d bring glue, glitter, feathers, sharpies and googly eyes to decorate them. I remember doing that at school as a kid and it was just as much fun as carving them up – and we figured that this way, we could have time for multiple pumpkins, so that all the kids would get a chance to create their own. I wish I’d gotten a picture of the pumpkins – the kids were enthusiastic once they really realized that they could play with all of those decorations. The googly eyes were a big hit and served as noses as well, but the glitter was their favorite. Maybe we didn’t leave so little mess – the boys started attacking each other and by the end had rubbed it thoroughly into each others’ hair. But my favorite thing was the pumpkin of the youngest boy, who drew designs all over his rather than trying to copy the faces we’d shown the older ones how to do.
We were planning to help make some costumes this week. The youngest loves Spiderman and the middle child wants to be a Power Ranger. They came home with masks made at school – I wonder how much the school has explained about the holiday. We tried talking about it, but their mother was at work and their father does not speak much English. All in all, though, he was pretty amused by his sons’ pumpkins.
Last week we had an “all fun” visit to our family. (We need one of those every once in a while.) The kids had Friday off from school, so we headed over to their apartment Friday afternoon for some fall activities. My partner has been working on many English worksheets about the seasons lately. Fall is especially an important time to talk about, due to the distinctive changes in weather as well as the important American holidays fast approaching.
I was running late due to a meeting, but my partner went on time and began the festivities with pumpkin carving. They each took part in carving a specific part of the face. She said the kids loved it. When I arrived, they were ready to bake the pumpkin seeds and begin painting some smaller pumpkins. We munched on the seeds, once baked and salted, painted pumpkins, and listened to Burmese pop music. What a mesh of cultures! It was great to have a more hands-on feeling in their lives. For the first time we were allowed past the living room and into the kitchen. I felt like this was major progress.
Once the kids had their fill of painting/drawing/washing and correcting/painting again, we cut into a pumpkin pie. I explained how the pie was made, and that its most important ingredient is a pumpkin like they just carved. They seemed pretty excited about this new food, and all agreed they liked the taste of it. It was a really a very fun visit.
we are super excited because our family is soon moving into their new apartment. they are also very excited since it’s bigger. the daughter of the family already moved in to her apartment with her husband. our family went to visit and they said they like that it’s bigger and that it has 2 bathrooms!
also we noticed that some new families came in. one of the boys is friends with the son of our family. since we always help our family with their homework i asked if he needed any homework help. but he said he doesn’t go to school. is there some sort of a rule that refugee children need to wait for some time in order to go to school? i believe he’s 15 yo so that would make him a freshman. I was just confused. i hope that he isn’t held back. his English is ok but i don’t think that should make any difference.
This week my partner and I decide to have an indoor activity forcing around Halloween. Halloween is my all-time favorite holiday so when I went to the grocery store to pick up a pumpkin I got carried away. I also grabbed five mini pumpkins to paint with the paint and brush set I brought along with the pumpkin craving set and a starter bag of candy for the trick and treaters which my refugee family open when I gave the bag of candy to them. And for snacks my partner grabbed a pumpkin pie.
It was so much fun craving the pumpkin with the family. I, myself, forgot how fun it was to crave a pumpkin. We were all laughing and smiling and everyone help crave the pumpkin and bake the pumpkin seeds. Even painting the pumpkins was a hit. The best part was enjoying the finished product of the craved pumpkin all light up while enjoying a nice piece of pumpkin pie.
I was hoping to get my family excited about Halloween and I think we did. We are excite about the refugee Halloween party at Loyola. Our next field time is going to Loyola so they know where the party will be. Maybe they will even dress up. Who knows, but I’m excited.
This past week, Kate and I took Sally* to the library! Unfortunately, her mother did not want to go. Every time we mention outings, she doesn’t seem too thrilled about them. I don’t think she likes going out very much. Nonetheless, Sally* was extremely excited to go to the library and get her own library card.
On the way to the library, we took a pit stop and showed her around the Loyola campus. She was very eager to learn about our lives and our school. She was very observant and a bit quiet as we walked through the IC. I don’t think she knew what to expect.
When she finally received her very own library card, I was surprised to find that she didn’t want to check out any books. I think she felt intimidated by reading and I don’t’ think she likes to read very much at this point. We finally convinced her to take out a couple of books, but it wasn’t until we showed her that she could check out movies that she really got excited.
I was glad that she got excited about movies, but I also hope that one day soon she’ll be just as excited about books.
Last week we stopped by our family’s house, excited for our intended trip to the library. Our daughter was sleeping when we got there, but our mother let us help wake her up. The general relationship between all of us has been very silly and playful, and I feel closer to them and more friendly everytime I go to their home.
Our mother, after shoving rice and tea at us before we left, opted to not come with us on our excursion. This was kind of disheartening for a few reasons. Though she claimed it was just because it was “too late” or that is was “too dark,” I wonder if there is something more behind it. According to her daughter when we first met her, she barely leaves the house except to go the grocery store. I am afraid that she may fear leaving her comfort zone, although she seems so social with Julissa, myself, and her friends in the building. At any rate, she promised to come with us next time.
We set out and walked to the school so our daughter could get a look around at everything. She told us that she had never been south of her home before; she had largely only been to the supermarket and to school. She seemed very interested in everything she saw and asked lots of questions. Why were those people riding bikes next to the bus? What a giant dog! What is a pharmacy?
We then took her to the Information Commons and through to Cudahy library. She was amazed by the books and how everyone had a computer. Then we took her to the Chicago public library, got her a library card, and took out a few things. She seemed a little overwhelmed by it all by that point, however. The other children in the library seemed to startle her too. She was wearing a scarf, as she is Muslim, over her head, and saw other girls with scarves on as well. They all looked at each other pensively, as if they were trying to figure one another out. She ran to the movie section (she LOVES movies) and grabbed a few. I explained how we need to check them out and when to return them and we went home.
Julissa had to go home afterwards, so I took our daughter home. On the way, she asked what Dunkin Donuts is, so I went and bought her a few donuts. She and our mother enjoyed them and she loved the strawberry frosted donut. My favorite too.
This Saturday, I went with the son of our family to visit their father whose still at UIC hospital, he’s been in the hospital since his day of arrival now, and still, two months later, he’s going to be there for a while. After successful chemo-therapy treatment for leukemia (bone marrow cancer), the father must still remain in the hospital until he receives a bone marrow transplant (hoping to up his white blood cell count) from his twin brother who has been resettled in Arizona. While there is one doctor who speaks Nepali, he is not always there, so many times I have talked to the doctors in person and on the phone for the family. Translating medical jargon has been an interesting and eye opening experience; in attempts to breakdown procedures and the the fathers health condition into simpler terms I’ve realize how much I take my scientific knowledge for granted
After our visit, back in the apartment, while sitting with the rest of the young adults, a family member had asked if I wanted ice cream. I said yes and was soon presented with a plate of slightly melted, soup-like ice cream. I smiled and asked if I could see the container; this time I was presented with a semi-cold container of Bryer’s Ice cream holding the same soup-like cream sitting on my plate. I laughed a little and asked them where they kept the container. They pointed to the fridge. I asked if they stored the ice cream in the freezer portion, which they did not, as they really didn’t understand what exactly that part of the fridge was for. I explained how ice cream was generally meant to be eaten a bit a more frozen and that it needed to be kept in the freezer. I also told them what other kinds of foods needed to be kept frozen.
After the informal lesson, we all laughed a bit as the four of us finished the half melted ice cream. The mistake was so innocent. And I thought how absurd a refrigerator must have seemed to them. I remembered the time I had asked what traditional Nepali dessert was like. Then I had to explain what “dessert” was. After a blank stare and an explanation of, “in the camp, we only ate rice,” I wished I had never asked. Despite its melted state, they talked about the ice cream as if it might have been gold.
On Friday, Jessica and I talked about Halloween with our refugee family. They understood very well because Christmas in Benin is similar Halloween in America where the children go door to door and receive candy from the adults. They started to get confused when we talked about pumpkin carving, but I had brought two small pumpkins, which Jessica and I drew faces onto. They really got a kick out of them! They are also excited about the Halloween party on Saturday, although they requested an invitation. I think it will be a great chance for them to meet people (hopefully people who live nearby) to network with.
As we had promised, Jessica and I accompanied the couple to a church that we had found in Evanston. The website said they have a large Congolese congregation. However, when we arrived, there were only about twenty people and it seemed to me like that was their usual turnout. As it so happens, the husband had gone to that church a few times last year, but stopped going. He said his spirit doesn’t match the church. I see what he meant; they are a very social couple and should find a church with a larger and less-cliquey congregation. Everybody was very nice after the service, but it seemed like nobody really wanted to socialize with us. I’d like to keep helping them look, but I’m beginning to wonder if they’d rather search on their own.
This last week Karan was out visiting his sister as part oliday ritual, so we talked to Kareena and to an extent the kids, even though they are still very shy and rarely speak when we arrive. We try to talk and play with them, but it seems as soon as we come in and start talking they become very shy and either fall asleep or stare into space. I think we need to work on taking to them and making up some games all of us can play. This week a toddler from nextdoor came over and got both kids in an active mood. It was kind of hard to have a conversation with Kareena since this child clearly did not want to play nice, but it as nice to see the kids active.
We learned lotbout they way the family celebrate Diwali, and found that they have many of the same traditions that I have. We helped Kareena with some of the mail and deciphered some of her bills. This week we are going to try and introduce Halloween and get some pumpkins for them to carve and place in their window. We also want to get started on that ESL packet and see how that works out.
After reading through many of the past week’s blogs, I am surprised to see how many people feel like they are failing in their duties as cultural brokers, ELL tutors, and volunteers to our refugee families. I sometimes have this feeling. It is incredibly frustrating to see the dire situations these people have been forced to deal with. When obstacles arise, it’s hard to understand why- why has the US government failed these people? Why are refugee organization unable to solve basic problems like finding decent and affordable housing for these families? But I think it’s important to remember our role in the process. Someone mentioned that we have a responsibility to do what we can to help, and if we can’t help, then at least we won’t have made anything worse. I feel that the very fact of regularly visiting with our families is significant and beneficial. Familiar faces can make a world of difference. If nothing else, building friendly relationships, or even just being a stable force, however small, is a significant action. We aren’t always equipped to deal with our refugee friends’ problems, and we do our best.
I’ve been having a really difficult time with this entire refugee project. A lot of it has to do with my personality – I am unable to separate myself from the myriad dire situations in which many of these families find themselves. I’ve always been a bona fide optimist, sometimes to obnoxious levels, so I try to look for positive aspects of every visit – a smile from a child, the knowledge that my country agreed to help these people escape horrendous situations abroad. These small rays of light rarely offset the realities that I face with my family every week.
I spent an hour Friday in the office of a landlord who is being forced to evict several refugee families out of their apartments. Confusion ran rampant because for awhile my partner and I were the only English-speaking folk in our (rather large) group of people that walked to the office – eventually a family friend arrived who could translate English to Burmese, which was a true blessing. Initially our visit to the landlord was just to help the families all pay their rent, so the news of impending eviction was shocking; it was difficult to bring myself to communicate this information to my family.
As of now, I do not know what will happen to my refugee friends. Dr. Amick and I have both made some phone calls, and I pray the situation works out. For now I take solace in the fact that this situation would be taking place whether or not our Refugee Resettlement class ever existed – so while the best we can do is make things better, the worst we can do is keep things exactly as they would have been if we had never met our family. Even so, I would give anything to make sure our family had a warm place to stay for the winter… for now it’s just a waiting game to see if anything can be done, which almost makes the whole situation worse because of the suspense.
Kelsey and I really realized on Friday just how drastic miscommunications can be for refugee families. Not that long after we got to our Burmese family’s apartment, the wife and her relative asked if we would go with them to pay their rent a few blocks down the street. Of course, we were glad to help out – it’s nice to feel like you actually CAN tangibly benefit your family. Upon discussing the rent with the office manager, however, we realized that both families are actually $1100 in debt. Each family has only been paying $300 each month since May, since the ECAC was covering the other $400. Unfortunately, neither family realized that this was only a temporary arrangement, and that the ECAC would not be covering over half of the rent for more than 4 months. Thus, both families have been racking up debt without even realizing it, and the office manager implied that if they have not caught up by the 5th of November, they could very well be receiving eviction notices.
Kelsey and I contacted the families’ ECAC case worker, who was on vacation at the time, but he was very helpful in assuring us that someone at the ECAC could address the matter soon. The visit was overall pretty overwhelming, since we felt almost helpless in the whole process. We’ll keep the class updated on what happens with these families – this is a prime example of the dependence many refugee families exhibit upon their arrival here.
Abbi and I decided to head over to the Living Waters meeting/potluck last week, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many people showed up! First of all, the food was delicious. Particularly the pie. Somehow, potlucks never fail at hosting mind-blowing pies. But anyway, the meeting itself was incredibly interesting. I was simply amazed at just how many community members are involved with refugee outreach already, as well as at how many members of the community are interested in getting involved. I particularly appreciated how incredibly grassroots the entire event was – many community volunteers who are currently active with the refugee families in the area started as babysitters for refugee parents who needed someone to watch their kids while they attended ESL classes.
Anyway, the meeting involved introductions from each attendee, as well as some brainstorming for possible mass involvement. With this in mind, something like an online forum would be established so that all local volunteers could share resources and stories in one collective outlet. I am excited at the prospect of such an idea, and I look forward to seeing this group of volunteers develop. Here’s for more potlucks!
Diwali is a major holiday in the Bhutanese culture. We walked in on happy faces at the home of our family. They explained that during this weekend they went to the church that fellow Bhutanese are a part of. Then there is a day where the sisters of the family put tikka on the brothers and they get a little present for him. Kareena was so happy to explain these traditions to us. She also talked about her mother. She had recently talked to her and her mother was so excited to hear her grand children on the phone. Kareena said that her children were so use to seeing her grandmother and in America they are constantly yearn for her.
Karan was away at his sister’s and Kareena tool the initiative to ask about bills and various health issues. She also asked me if I could accompany to her to her first doctor’s appointment. I was very happy she asked to me because I thought she never needed help and I felt needed by her. I hope I can help her with questions that she may be scared to ask her husband or case worker.
This past week, my partner and I were finally able to meet with our refugee family after a few weeks of miscommunications. When we got there, the mother in our family came out and got us. This made me really happy because it means she remembered, and was willing to let us in. Both good signs.
We reviewed the vocab words we had gone over at the previous visit, and luckily they remember most of them, even though it had been awhile. They don’t speak English, so it is hard to ask if they have jobs or are taking ESL classes, but it’s nice to see them remember either way.
My partner and I planned to teach them days of the weeks, and months, but once we started, we realized how difficult that might prove to be. I don’t know what their previous concept of time is, if they use weeks and months, or whatnot. I guess I can assume they know some of it, because they know that we come over once a week, on the same day at the same time, but it’s a difficult concept to teach. We quickly abandoned that and moves to colors, which also proved difficult. I think we might have tried to progress too quickly. Colors are sort of abstract, maybe we’ll revert back to vocab words for a few weeks and see where that takes us.
We brought the little boy a coloring book and some crayons. I was happy to see he enjoyed it. Immediately he sat down and colored the entire time we were there.
I wish that we could find something to do with the parents rather than just teach them English the whole time. I know that they don’t play cards, but any sort of game that doesn’t have a lot of English in it would be good. Just to break up the monotony of our visits. We’ll keep thinking. I’m hoping this week’s visit goes as well as last week’s.