Check out the latest update on Refugee Support Network accomplishments over the past three months! RSN November/December Newsletter
It was the weekend before my first day at Coalition for Refugees from Burma, and I received an email from Mona Han, CRB’s Executive Director, inviting me to a Karen Wrist Tying Ceremony. I had just gotten back from AmeriCorps VISTA Pre-Service Orientation and was very excited to have an opportunity to meet the community I would soon be working with, so I agreed. At first I was so nervous. I did not know what to wear or what to say, but as I boarded the bus to the community center, those anxieties melted away. I got off at the wrong bus stop, so I had to walk a few blocks, but it was warm and the sun felt nice on my face and hands. When I finally reached the doors to the community center, parents were rushing in and out with plates of food and children darted around their legs. Most of the people were dressed in colorful woven cotton shirts and skirts. Mona was inside talking with an older community member and the gymnasium was filled with the smells of Karen ethnic food. In the front of the gym was a long table with white table cloths and candles on it. The ceremony began with the Karen youth walking up to the long table and then the elders seated at the table tying a thin red string to their wrists. Mona whispered “It protects the youth from bad spirits through the coming year.”
After the ceremony was finished, we moved folding chairs and tables to accommodate families enjoying heaping plates of rice noodles, chicken, limes, and chilies. The food was delicious, and I had to try very hard not to eat too fast. A small boy with a Bart Simpson t-shirt on sat across the table from Mona and me, and we talked about school and the CRB summer school he and his brothers attended. Everyone was so welcoming and kind, and I felt incredibly lucky to be exactly where I was. I still work with many of the children and families I met that day. It was a special way to begin my VISTA service term.
Sometimes it can be overwhelming to realize the incredible challenges that still await our refugee families after they arrive in the U.S. Many struggle to learn everything from how to turn on the oven to how to ride a bus or pay bills while also worrying about finding a job and learning English. In spite of all of these struggles, I am continually impressed by the value placed on education. While some parents have never attended school and others arrived with advanced medical degrees or Ph.D.’s, all consistently and immediately inquire about school for their children, clearly seeing it as a key to a better life.
As a former teacher, I love seeing the kids anticipating their first day with a mix of apprehension and intrepid excitement and then hearing them describe just a few days or weeks later how many friends they’re making or what their teachers are like. Although I have worked with at-risk youth before, I am continually impressed at how resilient children can be and how their happiness is immediately transferred to their parents. Seeing their children settle into their new community is clearly comforting for parents, who often proudly inform me of the new games their kids are learning in PE or how often they attend tutoring sessions at the Refugee Transition Center in Kent.
Last quarter we mailed out postcards to around 500 volunteers to thank them for their service to Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS). Many of our off-site volunteers have limited English skills. In order to have the message of the postcard interpreted to our off-site volunteers, I worked with ACRS staff to visit each site and hand deliver these postcards. Not only did we want all of our volunteers to understand our positive message, but we wanted to show appreciation.
Here is the message we sent out to thank our volunteers–
Thank you for your ongoing commitment and dedication volunteering with ACRS! Your efforts directly support the well-being of our clients, and we truly appreciate your service. Because of you, this year’s 22nd Annual Walk for Rice raised almost $200,000 for the ACRS Food Bank! We couldn’t provide so many services, reach so many clients (23,000+ a year) and put on so many successful events without you.
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Thank you again!
The ACRS Volunteer Program