By Rebecca Vasquez
At the Catherine McAuley Center, most of my interactions with refugee clients and recent immigrants have been during my ESL tutoring sessions. The moments I’ll remember the most are hearing the stories told to me by clients and students when they feel comfortable and trust me. The stories they tell provide insight into each of their lives. They’ve told me stories of cultural foods, stories of new hobbies or interests since coming to the U.S., stories of personal goals they want to reach, and stories of their families. These stories aren’t all stories of success, in fact many are about the challenges they face. The challenge of learning English and being understood, the challenge of discrimination, the experience of culture shock and wanting to preserve their culture, the generation gap between them and their children or grandchildren who are growing up here in the United States. These stories are heartwarming and earth shattering, but most of all they are important. Sharing stories helps us to better understand one another, and I’m very glad the clients I’ve worked with feel confident enough to share their stories with me.
By Moriah Morgan
Alice, a Karenni woman, arrived in Iowa with her husband and three children in 2015. She doesn’t speak English and a Karenni interpreter is rarely available. She struggled to understand the Burmese interpreter that was occasionally provided since her Burmese is limited. She and her family have gone to health care providers for years with little to no understanding of treatment. She has been a passive, often powerless patient. That changed in 2017 when she participated in a Karenni flu learning circle, one of seven learning circles held in Des Moines. When EMBARC followed up with Alice, she turned in a report showing she’d shared her knowledge with an additional 31 individuals!
For years, Alice reported getting a flu shot simply because her doctor had told her to. Of late, however, she had been losing faith. The shots were painful and didn’t seem to stop her from getting sick. It was with this doubt in mind that she attended a flu learning circle. Alice quickly learned the truth about how the flu was often mistaken as the common cold and how severe the flu actually can be. She realized how important this information was in terms of changing people’s understanding of sickness.
Alice felt it was her responsibility to teach her community. She knew that a large number of them felt the same way she did before learning the truth. She went door to door asking her neighbors if she could talk to them for a minute about the flu.
The information, Alice thought, was far too important for just a phone call. Speaking in person would allow her to gauge whether they understood what she was saying.
“I am really happy when someone appreciates the information I’ve shared, or they say, ‘oh I didn’t know the importance, but I will go now!’” Some neighbors told her they didn’t have insurance or that they were still asked to pay $20 and couldn’t afford it. Alice made sure to tell them that flu shots would be free with Medicaid, and tried to persuade them that paying $20 would be worth not getting sick if they didn’t have Medicaid.
Months later, Alice still spoke of this experience enthusiastically. She looks forward to participating in future learning circles and gaining more information about different health topics. Alice has requested to even be a host for a future learning circle so that she can promote the continuation of this valuable program.
By Path of Hope Staff, as told to Sarah Hubbard
Recently, Path of Hope’s RefugeeRISE Americorps members Tyler Scrimager and Jacques Luzindya assisted a family of eight from Congo. When the family first came to us, the parents weren’t working, the mother, who didn’t speak any English, was pregnant, and the kids didn’t have transportation to school. The family also needed help transferring their public assistance to Iowa and completing their vaccinations. Jacques helped find a job for the father. We then connected the mother to employment resources so she could begin working after her pregnancy, and connected her to ESL courses. Both Jacques and Tyler continuously helped the mother with appointments at the hospital for her pregnancy, through the day she gave birth in mid-January. Path of Hope helped the family transfer their benefits to Iowa and helped them complete their vaccinations. Jacques and Tyler both provided transportation for the kids to and from school for months until the family was able to buy a car when they got their tax return in February. Although the family’s case file is now closed, they still keep in contact with Jacques, Tyler, and the rest of the Path of Hope team. The parents have been taking the kids to school now that transportation isn't a problem. One of the children was able to get soccer cleats from the school and joined the soccer team. The father is still working at the job Jacques helped him find, and the mother looks forward to joining the workforce soon.
By Nyamal Deng and Terry Prickett
This spring, The Bridge of Storm Lake held a gardening service day for youth in the community. In the weeks leading up to the event, our team discussed how to create a good learning environment, how to teach the skills we wanted to have youth leave with, and how to build or improve the knowledge participants may already have. Additionally, our team had to learn the skills required before we could pass them on to others. On the day of the event, the youth came in not knowing much about gardening. We used the RefugeeRISE self-assessment tracking tool to give the youth participants a pre and post test about gardening. The growth in knowledge was very notable. At the end of the workshop, everyone who came had at least a ten percent increase in overall understanding of the gardening skills we taught. Many felt prepared to take the knowledge they gained to work on their own projects outside our service day. The gardening service day was a great way for AmeriCorps members to provide youth in the community with marketable workforce skills and a place to have positive social interaction. We have a whole summer of gardening service days in the works - everything from transplanting to weeding to watering to harvesting. We can’t wait to have the project continue and make an impact on the lives of youth in our community.
By Katie Splean, as told to Sarah Hubbard
G. was having trouble navigating while living in Cedar Rapids. He found the bus system inconvenient and was accustomed to riding his bike everywhere when he was in Africa. While working with the Catherine McAuley Center, G. was partnered with a case manager. After the pair got to know each other a bit more, G. asked his case manager if there was a way he could get a bike. The Catherine McAuley Center put out a request to the community for a donated bike and was able to find someone who was happy to donate a new bike in honor of her son. G. is now able to ride his bike around the city to meet with business contacts, get to work, shop, and socialize.
By Path of Hope Staff, as told to Sarah Hubbard
Jane came to Path of Hope because her family was new to Iowa and didn’t speak any English. It was easy to see Jane’s fear just by looking into her eyes. She was uncertain of the future, and terrified of failing to care for her kids. After talking with Jane, we were able to decide together that her top three priorities would be finding a place to live, getting a job, and finding a physician.
We took Jane to see many different houses that she could rent. We wanted to make sure she knew she had options and didn’t need to settle on the first one. When she decided which one she wanted, Path of Hope assisted the family by making arrangements with the landlord for them to be able to move in without credit and also by teaching the family how to make the first month's rent payment, plus the deposit. Between days of house hunting, we helped Jane fill out Medicaid forms so she and her children could go see a doctor without worrying about the cost. In addition, Jane got a job with assistance from our staff here at Path of Hope.
Jane now has a job that can help provide for her family’s needs. She also has a primary care doctor who she can visit without worrying about big bills. Jane is still living in the house that Path of Hope helped her find with her family. When she comes to visit, there is no longer fear in her eyes. Instead, there is a happiness and joy there that we know we helped put there.
By JoAnn Goerdt as told to Sarah Hubbard
David brought three letters in to IC Compassion about his electric bill and wanted help understanding them. He didn’t understand the timing of the payments, the down payment, or the consequences of making a late payment. In addition, David wasn’t familiar with the postal service in the United States. He didn’t know that letters needed stamps, which would seem like common knowledge to people who have lived in the United States their whole lives.
I worked with David to help him understand the letters and bill payment process. During that time, I could see that he was embarrassed to ask for help but I also saw his courage and determination. He trusted me enough to help him solve the issue. It was clear that David wanted to learn by the way he asked for instructions to be repeated until he understood them and could explain them back to me. Even though you could tell he was frustrated, he was patient with himself and with me while we worked through the process together.
David has become knowledgeable and confident about the process of making and mailing payments. Because of this, he is becoming more self-sufficient. We greet each other with a knowing smile, but don't have to mention previous circumstances again. I feel that David and I have become friends and he would feel comfortable asking me for help in the future or recommending me to his friends if they need any help transitioning to the U.S, culture.
On Saturday, March 31st, EMBARC Des Moines' Health Advocate, Lian Puii, and RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps member, Moriah Morgan, held a wellness day in partnership with Connections Matter and United Way. An art therapist, yoga instructor, and meditation expert volunteered their time to teach their practices to a group of ten women from the Burma community as a way to cope with stress and trauma. The women enjoyed these activities so much that they have requested that these experts hold workshops with other community groups. All in all a great way to spend a Saturday!
In February, EMBARC's Waterloo office completed their third annual Community Producers Workshop. The workshop was designed to train members of the Burma community on the various aspects of starting, handling, and maintaining a business to help empower participants to sell their own goods and services. The workshop was administered by RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps members at EMBARC in partnership with the University of Northern Iowa Center for Environmental Education and the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. Thirty members from the Burma community participated in the two week, thirty hour class. Before the class, most attendees knew very little about the various aspects of banking, credit scores, and business in the United States. As a result of this class, attendees reported feeling more confident with cash handling, food safety, and customer service, and 15 participants signed up to work in the community garden and sell their goods during the farmers market. One participant stated that as a result of this class they "... would love to learn more about the farmers' market because I would like to sell products from my country." This month, the program will continue with participants learning how to garden, working together to maintain a community garden, and selling what they grow to local markets and stores.
By Sarah Kraft
On Sunday March 4, 2018, EMBARC Waterloo held a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) clinic to help Burma community members who came to the U.S. from Malaysia apply to receive documents found in their immigration file. The clinic was a huge success thanks to the hard work of many organizations and volunteers! To hold the clinic, EMBARC partnered with Iowa Legal Aid and Catholic Charities to provide legal expertise and supervise the paperwork. The clinic was also made possible because of over 20 volunteers from both the Burma and Iowa communities who came to help fill out the paperwork. In total, we helped 43 clients complete the FOIA paperwork. This great turnout was thanks to the hours my Burma coworkers spend calling community members to explain the clinic and encourage them to attend. I'm so proud to be part of such an awesome team!
About the Blog
The service members of RefugeeRISE AmeriCorps have compiled stories of success during their membership. This blog was created with the intent of sharing these valuable stories with the public.