Just thought I would take a moment to stop and reflect on the progress we have made during the past three months. On the whole, I think our experiment on service-learning and civic engagement in refugee resettlement has been very successful. Our community partner has been very pleased with our involvement and more importantly, the refugee families have been very pleased with it. The challenges never seem to stop coming in this effort as we are learning what seems to work and what doesn’t, what seem to be good initiatives for us to try tackling in the future and what seems to be beyond our reach (at least for now), and how we can improve on what we have already started.
I have learned a lot about the overall issues surrounding refugee resettlement and much of what I have learned has been spurred by the sharing of questions and insights from students, faculty (here and elsewhere), refugees, community members involved in similar service work, and our community partner. Like the students, my own confidence has grown in working and teaching in this new arena, and although it has often been wholly consuming of my attention, it has never been something that I have regretted spending time on. What has made it particularly worthwhile is seeing how so many people are positively affected by this effort and the indescribable joy that shows when real human connections are made across the vast gap of cultural backgrounds we are attempting to span.
As a sign of our broader influence through this blog, we received our first trackback to http://www.letslets.com/ which provides some great musical ELL lessons that we can share as we continue developing that aspect of our programming. We also received our first hate mail comments (which I refuse to publish) from someone who clearly seems unfamiliar with the values of social justice, charity, and humanitarianism. It is sad to know such hatred of exists for those practicing benevolence.
About the title of this posting… that is from Margaret Mead, anthropologist, of course, who said, “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I have truly enjoyed watching this process unfold this year!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzJ2NKp23WU.
Wow, this semester has gone by fast! It feels like just yesterday I was anticipating what kind of refugee family I would be assigned to. Now I am sitting here wondering what will come next? I have learned that working with refugees is not something that can be finished in a one semester course, rather, it is a task that might even become a lifelong commitment. Who knows? In terms of my committee I was excited that in the final weeks we were able to produce the medical kits we’ve been wanting to make all semester! Even thought it was a basic accomplishment it is very useful to our existing and future families. I really hope to see the fruits of our work brought forth in the future.
In terms of my family they are trying to grasp the idea of final exams for Sarah and myself. They still insist we stay until 9Pm because they don’t want us to leave and honestly it is very hard to say no, but studying for exams is a priority and I know that they understand. At the Christmas party they had so much fun sharing with other families and being in the midst of our class who they feel has done so much for them. It was a little bit sad when I dropped our family off after the party because they knew that this may be the last time they will see me for a while due to winter break. Yet, I promised that I will still call and visit when I am back in Chicago.
It’s nice to know that the work I’ve done this semester has really helped a family find their way here in the U.S. and that we were both able to learn so much from each other and I hope that we continue to do so!
I just thought this article was pretty interesting — it’s about a video game in Sweden that puts people in refugees’ shoes and is supposed to help them understand what refugees go through — so interesting! I’ve never heard of a video game with these purposes.
This week’s visit will be the last one before winter break. We will have a translator present to explain the situation to our family and hopefully set up times at which we will be able to see them during break. Evan and I both would like to come back to Chicago a few times to visit with them.
Last week Evan and I gave our family the make shift first aid kit. We weren’t sure if they knew how to use everything in it, so we decided to demonstrate. I’m pretty certain this was very entertaining for them. Evan and I first had to explain what the ailment was, so if there was a band-aid in case someone got cut, but we had to explain what a cut was. After we explained the band-aid we realized the kit had Neosporin in it, so we had to back track. I wasn’t really sure how to explain Neosporin but hopefully we got the point across. After, of course we found the alcohol swipes and then the rubber gloves. It was ridiculous. Evan and I went about that completely backwards, but our family laughed with us, so I’ll call it a success. The mother seemed interested in the pictures of ailments in the book, so we covered a few of those. Again, it is hard to explain a concept without physical evidence in front of you. That is probably a topic we will have to recover once our family’s English improves.
The husband was home this week. It’s probably been about a month since we’ve seen him. I think he has a job, but that could just be me hoping. Because he has missed so much, he’s behind his wife. Evan and I discussed one of us working with him to catch him up and the other person working with the mother. We haven’t decided on anything yet, but it’s an idea.
By the end of this week, I’ll be looking forward to our visit very much. Can’t wait.
I went to visit my family last Wednesday, and Margaret came along. When we first got there, the only one home was the brother and he had a few friends over. They spoke a little English and said they lived in another building and went to school with the kids. One friend was really friendly and curious and ended up sitting with us for a little while and looking at the homework we were doing with the girls. The boy in our family said he did not have any homework. He has actually never done homework with us. I do not know if he is too shy or if he does it on his own. We all watched Arthur for a few minutes when the girls came in and pulled out their homework. We did some reading and then the older girl pulled out a notebook she had from Burma. She showed it to us and we looked through it. It was pretty full with writing and little pictures. She said they were all songs. I am not sure if she wrote them or copied them, but it was really cool she showed it to us. Every now in then there would be an English phrase mixed in with the script. I thought it was cool she showed us that, as we do not know much about their life previously. I am guessing the girl really likes music because she let me borrow a cd before and now she showed us this. She then pulled out a plastic bag full of the notebooks and tried to give Margaret and I about ten each. We ended up just taking one. We also gave the family the health kit, which they seemed to appreciate. Before we left we tried to tell them about the Christmas Party, and I think we communicated it effectively. They seemed to understand, at least I hope they did. We will see!
Last week the health care committee set up a program making health care kits for the refugees. The event was a success and we were able to make 100 kits to hand out to families. We were able to get money to buy the items for the kits and had Indian food too. Thanh and I then took the kit to our family. We had to explain what all of the things in the kit are for and how to use them. I am slightly worried that if they forget, they will not know what to do since they cannot read the English on the packages. I think a new goal for our committee should be making presentations about how to use the kits and finding people to translate the information for us. For the people literate in their languages, we also need to find a way to get the information and directions on the boxes translated so that they can use the items properly.
last time we went to visit our family, it began as our regular meeting. we come in, do some homework help. we helped out the mom with her English homework. she has a test coming up on the material that will allow her to move up a level and she was having some trouble with it. she was doing well though the only thing lacking was confidence! also i helped son with his homework. for some strange reason he wasn’t able to understand what i was explaining to him. fortunately my sister was coming to see me and i asked her to come in. she also loves math so she came in and tried to explain the concept to him. he seemed to better understand the material. we also had one of the neighbors come in saying that her mom had a fever. out family is the go to people for medicine. the dad worked in a hospital in the refugee camp in Nepal so everyone seems to trust him with that. Me and Kim decided that we should get a pack of tylenol and give to our family so that they can give it to the the other family. the family just came in to the US, so it was essential to help them out!
It was exciting working with the boy in our family. It had snowed and I was going over winter words with him. We went over snow and snowflake. I then explained to him that what he had seen falling from the sky today was snow. He seemed so excited to learn what it is. Since their family is from Africa and they came this summer, I think it was their first time seeing snow. The boy was excited and was very interested about it. Unfortunately, since the parents do not speak English, I could not ask them about it. Hopefully they found it interesting too. Once it snows some more I think it would be fun to make a snowman, have a snowball fight, and go sledding. I go over these words with him frequently because it comes up in his homework but I don’t think he understands what they mean since he has never done it. It would be fun to finally attach an experience to the name.
The dad in the family I work with has has been coming to Thanh and I to study the rules of the road so he can get his driver’s license. After reading the Nuer Journeys book, all I can think of is a car is a bad cow. I know this analogy does not apply to my family because they were business owners in the country they came from but I find it interesting that after moving here all people seem to want to get a car. It is as if getting a car is on a checklist to become American. Our family has not asked us to help find them a car, but the dad has asked us to practice questions about the rules of the road because he wants to work on getting his driver’s license. I’m glad he is taking a class that explains it to him in his own language but when it comes time to take the test at the DMV, I’m not sure if he is going to be able to do it in English. Thanh and I are having a hard time explaining it to him since he cannot read or speak English. He is slowly learning, but has not learned fast enough to understand all the words on the permit test. I do not want him to try to do it and then be discouraged if he doesn’t pass.
Usually, the father in our family is at work when we visit. This time, however, he had the day off. The father had a lot of questions for us. He wanted us to explain a letter he received about social security, which ended up being a rather difficult and confusing topic. We also tried to explain how tax returns work, and we had a little talk about financial aid for school. The son in our family is about a year away from graduating high school, and he has made it very clear that he wants to attend college. The father currently works as a nursing assistant in a nursing home, and he really wants to take nursing classes to get a higher degree in nursing. Clearly, financial aid is an extremely important topic to cover with this family. We encouraged the son to talk to a guidance councilor at school and helped the father contact a local community college about financial aid, but I know we didn’t explain things as thoroughly as we needed to. Topics such as social security and financial aid are difficult enough for people who are used to navigating American beaurocracy, but having a bit of a language barrier and being unfamiliar with this system definitely does not help.
On a more positive note, the mother in our family recently got a job! She works as a caretaker for an elderly man that lives nearby. When we ask her about work, she always tells us how it is good and the job is very easy. This is the first time she’s earned money for her family, and as she loves to tell us, “money is good!”.
Several times, different health care issues have come up in our family. Anna has already blogged a few times about the strange mass on the grandfather’s foot. We were pretty worried and there seemed to be a lot of confusion about an ointment that a previous doctor had given him that is not working. However, we’ve arranged a new doctor’s appointment so we can figure out just what it is and try to relieve some of the grandfather’s discomfort.
During our last visit, a girl came in from one of the neighboring apartments and explained that her mother was sick. She told us her mother’s symptoms, and the mother from our family gave her some Tylenol and interpreted the directions. Our family has been here for about a year, which means they have a better grasp of English and a regular income. Even though Tylenol is just an over the counter medicine, it seems like it’s much easier for our family to afford any sort of medicine and understand how to use it. The mother in our family told us that many of the other Bhutanese families come to her when they have problems like this. Even when they were still in the refugee camp, the father in our family had a small store with some medicine, and other families would come to him when they were sick. At the end of our visit, the mother proudly told us, “In this life I will learn English. In my next life, I will be a doctor in America”. Anna and I couldn’t agree more.
This week, our visit was far less serious than most of the others. The son in our family didn’t have much homework, so we ended up watching youtube videos. At first, we showed the family videos of animals native to North America- like moose and raccoons. Then, we started watching videos of animals from all over the world, like penguins and koalas, that the family had never seen before. I asked if our family had been to the zoo, and if so, what animals they had seen there. They went to the zoo shortly after they arrived last year, but they didn’t enjoy the cold weather and seemed uncomfortable with the idea of having to look at animals in cages. Eventually, some of the neighbors came in to watch videos with us. The last videos we watched were of animals from Bhutan and Nepal. Our family told us some great stories about foxes that had stolen chickens, and the mom of our family told us about how much she disliked monkeys. The last video we watched was of yaks being herded in Bhutan. Everyone in the Bhutanese families particularly liked this video and agreed that yaks were one of their favorite animals. This helped me to see that although a bunch of new experiences can be exciting, sometimes people just need a little taste of home to help make life in a new place more comfortable.
Recently, many new Nepali families have moved into the same apartment building as our family. When Anna and I said this was a good thing, the mom of our Nepali family shook her head in disagreement. She went on to explain that most of these people do not know English, and it will be quite some time before they get jobs. She seemed upset that families keep coming, but most don’t really know what to expect in America. It made me realize how fortunate the refugee family that we work with has been. The father and teenage son both speak quite a bit of English, and it was easy for the father to find a job. Other families have a much more difficult transition. Our visit ended up being cut short because the mom was exhausted after staying up until 3 am to help another Nepali family move in. Although transitioning to a new life in America is difficult, I think this speaks of the strength of the Nepali refugee community. The mother in our family had never met these new arrivals before, but she still felt compelled to make this new family feel as comfortable as possible.
A week or so ago I was working in the cold frame at the community garden where I work in Rogers Park along with some fellow community gardeners. We were comparing notes from the season and lamenting the loss of the season. Several of my fellow community gardeners are Burmese refugees who have become involved with the project through the Heartland Alliance. They have maintained some of the most aesthetically pleasing and highly producing plots in the garden. I commented on this to one of the gardeners, and he told me that many refugees from Burma are farmers, and the chance to farm in a city, so far away from place of origin was exciting. However, at this particular garden, we don’t have access to the space we need to serve the consumption needs of all of the families who garden there, and gardening through the winter can only happen in very small quantities. That got me thinking, what could a food project look like in the context of this project, or the larger resettlement project? We spend a lot of time discussing the discrepancies between the skills refugees enter the United States with and the nature of the jobs traditionally available to them. Creating viability for the urban agriculture movement is something that I feel very strongly about, and knowing that so many newly resettled refugees have an agricultural skill set is an interesting new component to that. What remains difficult is creating the avenues for the very real needs for food security and employment and the opportunities to align themselves more closely.
So I haven’t been to see the family I work with an 2 weeks, and it feels a little strange. The first Wednesday was right before Thanksgiving and so Abby and I didn’t go and then this Wednesday (the whole week, really) was insanely busy with finals and meetings so I wasn’t able to get away to visit. From what I hear, though, it was a good visit and it seems like they were able to communicate in some way about the holiday party on this coming Wednesday. I’m looking forward to seeing them in that kind of crowd. My interactions with this family have all taken place in their apartment with nobody else around except for one other family from down the hall. I think it is always broadening to see people in different contexts, and I don’t think this will be any different. See you all on Wednesday!
On our weekly visit on Thursday, Thanh and I worked with the mom and dad in our family. They are taking a class that teaches them how to apply for jobs and were given homework to practice. I worked with the mom on interview questions so she could learn how to answer them. Thanh worked with the dad on filling out an application. The whole time all I could think is that applying for jobs is a stressful process even for people that do speak English, how are these people who do not speak any English going to do it. This was made even clearer as I kept working on questions with the mom. I would ask her the question and then she had to reply. I only asked 8 questions and they were simple questions like why do you want to work and have you worked before. She was having a lot of trouble with them. I could tell she did not understand it; rather she was trying to memorize it. If I changed the words a little bit she was confused; it was only when I said it the way it was exactly written on her paper that she could reply. This going to be a huge problem when she does apply for a job because they are not going to ask her questions exactly the way she has memorized and I am not sure how to help her.
The holiday party this week and thanksgiving last week, got me thinking about how our families are adjusting to learning all these new customs. Since my family does not speak any English, my partner and I are always having a hard time explaining customs. Some things just seem to get lost in translation. During Halloween, the cultural awareness committee tried to introduce people to Halloween by having Bingo with Halloween themed pictures on it. To this day, my family has is confused and thinks Bingo is the word for a skeleton, not a game and can’t seem to understand the difference when I explain it to them. When it came time to try to explain Thanksgiving to them, Thanh and I looked at each other and wondered if we should even try. We skipped the Pilgrim Indian stuff and went straight to it’s a holiday where you giving thanks but I don’t even think that they understood this explanation. With more holidays approaching, I am having a hard time figuring out a way to explain it to them. I want to be a cultural broker for them and introduce them to American customs, but I feel like it is not working because without English I can’t explain anything.
Last night I had an interesting conversation with a friend who works at another resettlement agency. We were talking about the issues with resettlement and how few resources the agencies receive. I went on to talk about my experience over the past year. When I told him I was working with a family from Eritrea he told me something that I never thought about. He asked me if my family had any issues being resettled by Ethiopians. I immediately thought of something I had never thought about. Ethiopia was the oppressor of Eritrea. Could the experience of being resettled by Ethiopians bring back bad memories to Eritreans? Even if nothing happens it could still trigger something inside. From what I know there aren’t any problems, but it is still something that I don’t think our government takes into account when they decide to resettle refugees or when they decide what agency would best serve the refugees.
This past friend, my partner and I, celebrated two of our refugee kids birthday plus a new additional to the family: a baby boy. The family was super excited about the birthday party we had plan and the new baby. I have to admit that Melissa and I were also gusting over the new baby. For the special occasion, Melissa and I got a vanilla birthday cake for the kids and a baby boy balloon for the new baby. We forgot the board games we were going to play so we improvised and played a game of charades using action verbs and nouns we have learned throughout semester.
Our family was also honored to be photographed in the Loyola magazine. So we had a photographer can take pictures of us playing games and eating cake. At first the kids were very awkward with their picture being taken, but by the end of the day we were having so much fun, we didn’t even notice the camera anymore. In fact the cameraman even joined in on the game! Over last visit will be the Sunday after finals week. If its cold enough, we will all go ice stating.
This is not good bye for me. I plan to stick with my refugee family till I graduate in the Spring. We have grown so much since together this past semester, I don’t think I can ever say good-bye.