The first few visits with my refugee family have definitely been different from my previous experiences. In my previous refugee family I had worked and visited a family of 5 people, the mother, father, and their 3 children (all girls) through working through a church organization. My first experience with them has been totally different from the experience that my partner and I have experienced with the family we are visiting this semester.
My current refugee mainly consists of a gentleman in his early thirties that live with his sister and her family here. He has only arrived this past July. When I first met him and the family, my partner and I did not know what we would be doing with them and of course have caused us to be a little hesitant in the beginning.
Our first visits consisted of getting to know each other through introduction and a little of whom they were, telling us a little bit of how their experiences living here in the states have been , and the different struggles that have challenged them and forced them to be strong to make it. We also worked on language skills through homework from their ESL classes, learning how to use a language program online and helping them with different pronunciations of words, and also doing exercises that will help them to not only be familiar with the words but also how to use them.
Through each visit, my partner and I learn more and more of how their family dynamic works and how they are striving to make the best life they can living in a new place where they are not familiar with. I can remember when my family and I were new to the country and seeing their experiences and how they work, they will definitely be fine. Just have to keep at it and don’t lose hope. At the end of the day, their efforts will not be disregarded but rather just another few steps to being able to live a better life.
On the fifth visit with my refugee family, though I wanted to bring Toy Story 3 and continue their Disney education, my partner Sarah brought over School House Rock, the government issue. And though I think school house rock does a really nice job of explaining complicated issues to children, I could tell the kids just weren’t into it. I think because government and politics are so complicated in the first place, that not fully understanding English made it really hard for them to catch on. While the movie was playing they seemed really disinterested and I felt bad because it was clear Sarah was just trying to help teach them, but they just didn’t really seem to care.
Homework help again with the eldest son, more math and some art homework too. Every time he brings us his art homework I’m always so surprised. His assignments seem so silly, and really unnecessary. He always has us read the teachers directions and explain what she wants him to do and this time he had to draw an item from the kitchen in five different ways. It just seemed like such a waste of time to me! I mean when I took art we learned how to make bowls and things we could actually take home and use.
He also had a book report to do and that made me really worried. His English, though good, is still not at all were a normal 15 year old’s would be so to have him write a book report seemed an unbearable task. It must be clear to his teachers that reading a book that’s completely in English and then writing an essay on it would be something he would struggle with a lot, though I suppose that to make an exception for him would bring up issues in the class. If the teachers made his assignments easier it would make adjusting to life as an American teen more challenging than it will already be for him.
Dr. Amick let us know this would happen, but it was the first time our family brought us paperwork to look at for them. It was something about SNAP benefits and honestly I was completely confused so I couldn’t imagine what they were feeling. I felt kind of bad because the eldest brought them to us I think because he wanted to do them for his mom with our help, but we didn’t know enough of the information to fill them out.
It was also when we finally discovered why their mother is never home when we come over. She works at the Tyson chicken factory from 12pm-12am, and the littlest girl usually stays with other family at night. So basically the three older kids are home alone every night while their mother is at work. It was so sad to hear that she worked those long hours and couldn’t be with her kids, but I felt good that we can at least come by and hang with them for a little bit so they don’t feel so alone.
The fourth trip went really well I think. The mother and youngest daughter were not home again, but I’ve sort of gotten used to them not being home and I think it’s a testament to our character that she is ok leaving us home alone with her kids. I brought over Toy Story 2 as I promised, and the kids again seemed to really enjoy it. We turned on the subtitles for them again, but because they were familiar with the characters already, I think they had less difficulty than when we watched the first one.
Sarah and I again helped the eldest son with his homework. The math was similar though I’m again reminded how easily you can forget about this stuff when you don’t use it for so many years. I’ve become so dependent on a calculator it’s ridiculous! He was doing long division in his head and I needed to use the calculator on my iPhone, which I think is also a fairly obvious example of our extreme dependence on technology in America. I also thinks its a great testament to a refugees ability to get along without all of the things we seem lost without. None of the children have a cell phone, and I’m fairly positive they don’t have internet at home either, and yet they still seem to get through relatively well.
Sometimes when were helping the eldest with his homework, and I do use a calculator I feel really bad because he sees me using one when his teachers have taught him to do it all in his head, and its really hard to explain why he shouldn’t use one when I am not following my own advice.
Every once and a while the second boy will ask for help. He usually asks about grammar homework, but always catches on really quickly whenever I explain something. Part of me worries that he’s just copying the examples he’s given rather than actually learning the rules, especially because he really doesn’t speak English to us all that often. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s still shy or because he’s not progressing as quickly as his older brother.
About a month passed before my partner and I saw our family a third time. Luckily, it was because they had been very busy actively seeking jobs, schools, and other ways to help get there life in Chicago started. The husband of our family was able to find a job as a stock boy at a local discount store, which is at least an income but it’s work that he hates. He spent awhile explaining to us his long hours, the arduous labor, and how he, an educated man, deserves something else, with which I couldn’t agree more. I’m finding it extremely hard to respond to these grievances; since I can’t completely fix them, all I really know how to do is offer cheesy support such as “well you have to start somewhere” and “it’s hard now but it’ll get better.” I Easier said than done.
We were able to finally feel like we were starting to make an impact when we were able to bring a large pile of children’s books to help the family with their English. The little girl was especially thrilled. Too bad she can’t sit still long enough for us to actually teach her something! But that small step made me feel a lot more confident in working with our family. Especially after trying to get in contact for so long, I felt like we were being ignored because we had become more of a burden than a help. But now I see that if we focus on smaller tasks that we can handle successfully, we will be able to all reach an understanding and make more progress together.