Evan and I were not able to visit our family over Thanksgiving break because we both went away for the holiday. During the previous visit, we had tried to explain that we wouldn’t be there. I hope they understood, because it is sad to wonder if they waited outside for us. Before we leave for Christmas, we should talk to the translator to make sure that our family knows that we won’t be able to see them every week. Still, Evan and I would like to come back at least twice over break so we don’t lose the connection we’ve gained with them.
Last Sunday, a few of us organized the clothing donations in the basement of Damen. We seem to be acquiring piles and piles of clothes, which is amazing, but it has been a bit of challenge to find times to organize. With finals coming up, classes are ending and it is hard to get people together to work on it. We have the Christmas party soon, so we will have a table set up for a clothing drive again. I know we’ll be ready by then, but we’re probably cutting it close. It’s still something that I enjoy doing, and to see so many people giving us their donations is really inspiring. It’s a joy to see all of the contributions people have made to LRO and the class through bake sales and the donation drives and the giving trees.
With the semester coming to a close, I have thought a lot about this class and how it has changed my perceptions and ideas about refugees and our Rogers Park neighborhood.
Before starting this class, my perceptions about refugees was based primarily on what I saw on TV or the few people I had met that were refugees and came to the U.S. from Slavic countries over a decade ago. To me at the time, life in the camps were hard but when they get to the U.S. they can start their new lives, no problem, end of story. Based on my previous knowledge this seemed to make perfect sense to me. This class has blown the door off of this perception. I never really thought about the struggles refugees go through between coming to the U.S. or some other country and that decade afterwards when they seem completely adjusted and prospering. Thinking about it now, it almost embarrasses me how naïve I was at that time to think that moving to the U.S. could be easy when there are so many complicated things about our culture that I have learned to accept without fully understanding. I see now that probably one of the hardest parts of a refugee’s life is adapting to their new country since many times it is completely different from anything they have experienced. I can definitely see how the U.S. could sometimes seem even scarier than a refugee camp since there is almost always no common language and sometimes, as we saw in the movie about the young men from Darfur, there may not even be a strong social network like a family to rely on. Refugees come to the U.S. with very different backgrounds and experiences, so adapting to the U.S. is a different process for each person, but I can imagine adapting to a new country still is never easy or without struggle.
Another perception that this class has blown out of the water for me was the makeup of our neighborhood, Rogers Park. I was well aware that our neighborhood had many different peoples with many different backgrounds, however I never really thought about it in depth. In my mind, these people had come to the U.S. like many other immigrants in our nation’s past, simply looking for a better life. I never really thought further into their backgrounds. Now however, especially since I am now living off campus, I have been really looking and wondering about the many different people I see in Rogers Park. I don’t think that they are all necessarily refugees because I am sure many are not, however I definitely think harder about what that person’s story might be. I would have never guessed that such a wonderful and nice refugee family simply lived right down the street from me who could possibly use my help or friendship.
I have mentioned earlier that the grandpa of our family has a strange mass on his foot. I have contacted the health care group and got an advice of a clinic that we can check out. I am going to go there with one of the group members so we can see what kind of a place it is. Also our family is going to another doctor and we advised them what questions to ask in order to find out more since it seems that the doctor wasn’t too helpful the first time. If he or she wont’ help then if the other clinic checks out then we will take the granpa there. Also, I volunteer at a free clinic for people who do not qualify for insurance. It’s on Chicago/Western but I’m not sure if our new friends would be willing to go there. There’s long time to wait for appointments and long time to wait for a doctor but they are very good. I was thinking of getting help from a dermatology specialist to finally get this health issue resolved! The name of the clinic is Community Health Clinic!
Like everyone else, I missed seeing my family this week. Normally I see them on Thursdays, and this past Thursday I was in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi seeing relatives. I have a big family and there were more than 50 people at my Thanksgiving dinner. Seeing all of those relatives made me conscious of the fact that in the part of the world from which my refugee family came, communities can be much more closely knit. I wondered how much family they had left behind and whether they would have considered my Thanksgiving to be small or large. Even now, they have formed stand-in relationships with other families in their building. On many nights that I’ve visited, the children are being watched by people down the hall, and people wander in and out. Looking around the makeshift tables and chairs at dinner, I wondered what it would be like to have all of my cousins around for support all of the time. I’m looking forward to seeing my family this week.
Since I did not visit the family this week, I wanted to use my blog to jot down some thoughts about the movie on Iraqi refugees in Syria that we watched in class. It made the think about a few different things that I thought were relavent to our experiences. First, one of the men who was interviewed mentioned the influx of refugees destabalizing the state and it made me think about how relocation is so difficult because of the population expansion that is already taking place. As much as a government may be moved by particular stories, they are committed to their citizens (is this a failure of the nation-state system??) and may not have the resources so prefer to opt out rather than disappoint. Second, the video showed Iraqi communities and enclaves that reminded me a lot of the Indo-Pak community right up Devon. For me, it’s kind of a spectacle and I like going to get food down there, but for new citizens I’m sure it’s incredibly important and meaningful. And maybe that kind of an enclave means that assimilation isn’t as necessary because it would be entirely possible to become successful by working in that community and finding resources there.
So, just some thoughts that I had made some little notes on during the film.
Not this past Friday, but on the Friday before that, we took our wife to see the ABC 7 studio downtown, because she has a degree in journalism and is very interested in TV news. I feel bad for her because they don’t have a converter box so she can’t watch the news on her TV at home, so we thought taking her downtown to see it live would be exciting for her. However, the whole time she seemed kind of down…I don’t know if she was just tired, or maybe she was homesick. When we arrived she tried to talk about some of the journalistic things she could see through the window, like “producer” and the concept of “live TV” in French. Still, she didn’t really seem blown away by any of it. At the end though, when they put a camera on the crowd outside the window, all three of us were on TV! So we waved and I told her, “Everyone just saw you on TV!!!” and then she seemed excited.
Afterward we went to Macy’s to look at the windows, which I also think she enjoyed, and then we took her inside for a bit to see the big Christmas tree in the Walnut Room. I think she may have been a little shocked at some of the stuff in there…right away I told her, this is a very expensive store and she said “Oh its a store for the wives.” Haha. We took an elevator up and it went very fast and afterward she looked like she might feel a little sick! She liked the big tree, but then she turned and saw furniture on display and I think she was confused by that! She wandered over to it right away…I feel like she has never seen anything like that before. She was shocked to see how expensive things were too…chairs in a dining room set were like $250 each.
Although we were not downtown for very long, I think it was good just to get out of the apartment for a night at to show our wife some more of our city. I hope that before winter break we can still take her to the zoo or at least on some other adventure in the city so she can see different things Chicago has to offer.
I normaly meet with my family on Thursday nights, but because of Thanksgiving break I did not get the chance to see my family this past week. It was weird not going to see them and like Kelsey I miss not seeing them this week. As this semester is wrapping up I am curious if I will continue to see this family next semester or if I will be assigned to another family.
On a different note, I am very excited the heath care committee has received the grant for the first aid kit project. I have really liked working with my group this semester and I am glad we our biggest goal has been reached.
I’ve only seen the family once since last post- only less than a week ago and I feel like it’s been forever!! I miss the kids and I feel like I keep bringing them up in conversation. We asked them if they’d like us to continue visiting them to help with their homework, and they automatically said yes. I’m glad. Renee and I discussed how we would arrange meeting with the family- maybe we wouldn’t always go see them together at the same time, maybe we could take turns visiting. I’m not sure how this would affect our visits- I know that in the past we have relied on each other to go on days when one of us can’t go. If we go on our own, we will need to have some way of contacting the family in emergencies when we are unable to make it to their house. The dynamic of the visits will probably change, but it will allow us a lot more flexibility with our schedules, which seems like a totally positive thing.
Another thought- the grant that Julissa and Kate’s family will be getting to start up a business is so exciting. The mother in our family is also a talented crafter. She knits intricate sweaters. Almost every time we see her she is knitting. The family has money coming in from the father’s job, so the situation is slightly different. However, if the grant works out and Julissa and Kate’s family benefits from selling embroidery, maybe there is a chance that business model could also work for our family.
While home for break I had been thinking about my family since I usually go to see them on Saturdays and I found myself discussing my experiences with a friend. Randomly as I was telling my friend about them I received a call from my family. They had called just to say hello and to ask how my Thanksgiving was. After getting off the phone my friend said how nice it was that they call to say hello and later on in the day I thought about how the relationship I have with my family has grown; specially in light of the semester coming to an end. Prior to coming home for break my family had expressed how thankful they were for the help Sarah and I have provided them. It really made this years Thanksgiving alot more meaningful. The opportunity to be involved with and build a relationship with these individuals has been so meaningful to me. It has truly opened my eyes to new things I had not noticed before.
As the semester nears its end, I hope to do what I can for my family before I go home for winter break. Yet, I anticipate what next semester will bring as I hope to continue staying in contact and visiting with them outside of the requirements of a class. Two weeks from now when I go to visit them it will be truly out of friendship.
When we arrived last week I knew we had forgotten something. PB&J. The mother left immediately when we got there and ran to the market. I was curious about where she had gone and why she left, but then she returned with a bag of bread and peanut butter. I looked at Katherine and we both felt bad that we didn’t bring it ourselves. We didn’t let it get to us because we know it makes them happy to be able to give us stuff. We sat back and made sandwiches for everyone. As we ate our sandwiches we worked on some English with the mother and sister. A little while later the father and two of his friends showed up. Some friends we already knew. The father brought the friends with him because we were doing lessons and they wanted to learn too. It’s very reassuring when others come over to learn. Not long after they had arrived the father told his sister it was time to eat (even though Katherine made sandwiches for him and his friends). We were confused so we asked what was going on and they told us it’s lunch time now, that was just breakfast. Like usual they brought our a lot of food and we were given plates to eat with them. Although we both weren’t hungry I always enjoy sharing meals with them because it feels like we are their friends and not just volunteers.
One thing I’ve really appreciated about this service-learning experience is that it was focused both on large-scale issues and on individual issues. It was such a meaningful experience to follow one individual family for almost four months through some of their obstacles and their successes. We could’ve spent these four months learning only about legislation and reading books, but it is such a different experience to witness some of the issues of refugee resettlement and to see how the statistics and generalizations that are available in the academic setting actually look in real life. It’s so much more inspiring and motivating to see the human element.
I’ve also appreciated the opportunities to hear different stories and to learn of experiences that may not be similar to the one that I see with my family, both through sharing in class and by meeting other children that live in my family’s building. A few weeks ago, a boy came to visit and he admired our family’s DVD player. I started realizing that my family is definitely more established than a lot of other families. Although the father has to work in Iowa which is certainly not fortunate, when “the culture of poverty” is mentioned in class I think of the ways that this doesn’t easily apply to my family.
I’ve also recently met another girl that lives in my family’s apartment building. She came over and I helped her with her math homework. She was a year ahead of the youngest girl in my family but her math was well behind. It was very difficult to help her as it took many trials of explaining and she didn’t have the basic multiplication skills to build of off, so I started to wonder if the work was too advanced. After a while, however, I could tell that she was grasping the overall process. This made me realize how important one-on-one support is in learning, and this can definitely be applied to other life-tasks other than math homework. I also realized that my family is not only at a relatively decent level financially, the kids are also on par and promising academically, especially aside from issues related to the language difficulties.
I can’t believe we’re approaching the end of the semester already. I’m glad that in our last class we got to see how we’ve budgeted our money so far. Seeing the data all spread out makes it easier to recall all of the things that we’ve done in the last few months. I’m looking forward to seeing the posters from the groups.
Mainly, I had no idea that our fundraising had been so successful. I know we have some events coming up that will probably drain off whatever funds remain, but I was really intrigued by the start-up money we voted to give today. With upcoming incarnations of this class, and with LRO, there are probably a lot of issues that require funding more immediately, things like emergency healthcare and the CTA cards. But maybe a microfinance program could be a side project – and a way for more people to get involved, who don’t actually have time or aren’t near Loyola but could give a few dollars to entrepreneurs.
Not a whole heck of a lot to write about since we will not be able to visit our family this week. I guess I could just include some details from our last visit. We were able to secure a Tigrinya to English phrasebook and dictionary for the family, which is super awesome because they’re so hard-working that I think they will put the resources to extremely good use. I mean, in almost any language class, no matter how basic, a dictionary is usually required. It’s almost a necessity for learning a language. That way, if we make worksheets for them or give them a workbook and they get confused about what it’s saying, they can look up the word in the dictionary, and then they don’t have to wait to have someone with them to tell them what it means. I think it’s really awesome how a pretty basic resource can (hopefully) have a big impact. I will be excited to see how they put them to use. Hmmm…let’s see, what else. Oh, I was able to secure 7 Joyola tickets for the family + 1 volunteer. I tried to get 9, but they wouldn’t let me. (I guess that was just a little too much, but at least I tried :]). I’m looking forward to the last few remaining visits of the semester and also really really hoping that we will be able to continue visiting our family in the new semester. If we are able to, that will definitely be something to be thankful about.
This week was yet another first for me, I visited my family all by myself and it was very different for me. While I was there they were just waiting for me to get done with the person I was working with and the next person would step up right away. It was a lot of work to get through and this experience made me realize how difficult it is to be a teacher, especially a ESL one at that. It was hard to keep everyone focus since there was only one person, yet I was able to get everything done. Even though this was a new and fun experience, I feel that things go a lot smoother with both people are there. Also due to time constraints, I was only able to due the work and not get to know the family better.
I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Highlander Research and Education Center, near Knoxville Tennessee. This center helped to found the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) which advocates for immigrants and refugees in this state. In speaking with some of the founders of TIRRC I was amazed at the broad number of things that this organization is involved with. Because they are not a resettlement agency, their work has a slightly different tenor than our own, but it really gave me a chance to see what things look like from a justice perspective in the refugee community. This organization does some exciting work with refugee and immigrant youth. They have developed teaching mechanisms that train young immigrants and refugees to address the issues facing their communities. They also participate in the Know-Your-Rights program, which is a program designed to provide individuals with the information they need to protect themselves under the law and from the law. They also work in a much broader sense on immigration and refugee policy reform.
Learning about this work was very eye-opening for me. I have often felt, throughout the course of this semester, that the stress of the immediate need often overshadows some of the broader issues facing the families that we work with. It is hard to worry about racial profiling by neighbors and law enforcement when the threat of hunger or homelessness is looming. But having opportunities to organize around issues in the refugee community can also be a source of community building, and can help in a more healthy integration process in my opinion. Another concept that TIRRC uses is mutual integration. This term refers to the idea that communities where refugees are present can take advantage of opportunities to integrate themselves into a culturally diverse community. I am so interested to see how that would look in our community. I will be returning from the South with a few new ideas about the work that we do!
Dr. Amick talked in our last class about how this project might have been our first in-depth exposure to severe impoverishment. I know some of the families our class is working with have next to nothing. My own family is more established: they’ve been here for about a year, and both parents work. They are a somewhat reticent family; we have worked mostly with their children. When I first started visiting, I was very confused by the nature of their material wealth. I expected my confusion to clear up, but it has only worsened. The family all sleep on one large bed, which also serves as a couch for guests, and their shower is used as a storage closet. Yet they have a TV, a Playstation, and (I found out last week) at least one iPod touch.
The reason it matters so much to me to figure out their level of need, if any, is because I am afraid I’ve inadvertently condescended to them. Much earlier in the quarter, when we were going to have a free market and drive, I asked if there was anything they needed and they said no – but they refused me so shyly I wasn’t sure. At the Halloween party, which their children attended with us but not the parents, the kids took home all kinds of great winter clothing, including a scarf for their mother. I was happy to see them so excited, but later I wondered if that would seem presumptuous to their parents. We took their children for a few hours and returned them with a whole lot of clothing and toys. I don’t want to seem as though I am assuming that they cannot provide for their own children! Yet when we took them to the zoo, they seemed underdressed and cold. I guess my only course of action is to keep getting to know them, and maybe we’ll be close enough for them to let me know what they need, or don’t.
When we visit our family the mother is always on her way to work and the father stays with us as we help the kids. But the last few time we have visited the father will disappear when we get there. I dont know if they are beginning to trust us more or if the father i working more. But either way all of our time now is spent with the kids. I think it is a good sign either way. I think that the father is beginning to be more. I am really glad that our relationship is moving forward.
This week, Rob and I resumed our regular meeting time with our family on Sunday afternoons. It was a fairly average visit until we began packing our things to leave. We asked our family if there is anything else they need help with before we go. The girls immediately became very bashful. Rob and I looked at each other, confused. Our family has never before been embarrassed to ask for our help. We asked them several times what it is that they need help with, but they refused to tell us. When we realized they weren’t going to feel comfortable asking us to our faces, I asked them if they would email me and tell me what they need. They finally agreed to that. As Rob and I left their home, we discussed what it might have been that they need. We decided it would be best for me to email them to say they can let me know what it is that they need and Rob and I will do our best to figure it out. As I wait for their email, I can only hope that it is something trivial that Rob and I will easily be able to provide for them.
This past week I visited my family by myself because Rob was sick. When I met my family for the first time, I was extremely nervous to be in the home of these people that I knew nothing about and wasn’t quite sure how to communicate with. Only three months later, however, not only have those nerves completely disappeared but it feels as though we have been good friends for quite some time now.
After we finally completed all the girls’ algebra and geography homework, they began teaching me Nepali vocabulary. It was a great opportunity for both myself and for them. It was awesome for me to sit there and be taught by my family instead of me helping them with their English. As I struggled to learn some basic Nepali vocabulary, they laughed at my botched pronunciations. It was a phenomenal experience to see the father and mother of my family laughing as they recognized that their daughters were attempting to teach me Nepali.
We enjoyed some delicious Nepali food, as always, and as I left to walk home I came to realize the mutual exchange of knowledge, traditions and relationship that had grown between me and our Nepali family.
Yesterday, I sat with the father of the family and worked on his typing skills. He really enjoyed this since he was able to work on a very important skill, while also working on his english. He began typing simple sentences and eventually added more. He continued to type as I helped one of the kids with her Algebra homework (which was an interesting review session for me). The father was very grateful for the computer time, but expressed how he wished all his family could work on computer skills. I told him once he is feeling better we will go to the library and get set up with library cards.
One of the kids was given a Target gift card from her teacher. It was an interesting process trying to explain how a gift card works. I called the number on the back to make sure how much money was on it before I explained. I made sure and told them it works just like money, but only at target. I also had to make it clear that this was a gift and they did not need to give her teacher money. It is funny how when I think I have gained a good grasp on explaining things something pretty strange about our culture comes up in our next visit.
Tonight we worked on homework as usual. I was working one-on-one with one of the boys doing his biology homework. He asked me what the word “half” meant. One of the girls overheard this and started to explain the word to him in Chin (A Burmese dialect). He abruptly cut her off by sharply saying, “I no understand Burmese speak!” After a short moment of silence by everyone in the room (we were all a little shocked to hear such an adamant remark from such a soft-spoken boy) I replied, “Good for you, —-!” Time and time again, —- is the one student who constantly reminds his friends that this is their opportunity to learn and speak English. I’m so proud of his determination! His English is still very limited, but he’s so determined to soak in as much as possible. It really was a happy surprise.