Monthly Archives: March 2013

Siobhan: HSPE Prep Update

On March 8, 2013, Coalition for Refugees from Burma held the last HSPE Study Group before the big exam! Based on the ideas and comments of high school aged refugee youth from Burma I was inspired to help students who had not passed the HSPE. The HSPE or High School Proficiency Exam is a high school graduation requirement for Washington State. It is a challenging exam for Native Language Speakers but can pose as a significant hurdle to receive a high school diploma for English Language Learners. This is particularly true for newly arrived refugee youth from Burma whom often experience interrupted formal education and may not have the advanced literacy skills to pass this exam.

I recruited a volunteer tutor, Dave Alefaio, and we began working with students in October of last year. CRB staff and volunteers assisted 14 high school students over the past few months with practice HSPE reading and writing assignments. We explained standardized testing tips and techniques for success, we built vocabulary, and we practiced . . . a lot. The students have worked incredibly hard, and we are confident they did well over the last few days of testing.

I must admit that I was quite nervous during their week of HSPE Tests. I could not help but think about all of our students diligently writing thoughtful responses, erasing answer bubbles, and scratching their heads with the backs of their pencils before being struck, as if by lightning, with just the right word. I am so thankful to the wonderful volunteers, Michelle and Dave, who helped our students over the past few months. They both worked conscientiously to meet with our students every week, answer their questions effectively, and take the time to review countless pieces of practice material. I am so proud of everything the students and tutors have accomplished and wait with baited breath for the results.

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Cordelia & Denis: Refugee & Immigrant Legislative Day

“This month I attended the Refugee and Immigrant Legislative Day in Olympia with some of the ESL and citizenship students of JFS. The excitement of the students was contagious, and it was great to see all of the organizations involved in the event. For most of our students, this was their first time to the Capitol, and they were eager to wander the halls and take pictures of the steps. Several legislators gave speeches, which were listened to attentively. The students were clearly excited to learn more about their new government and how to make their own voices heard.” -Cordelia

“On February 14th, I took my pre-employment class down to Olympia on an organized trip with Refugee Women’s Alliance for legislative day. There was a rally to support programs for refugees and immigrants and a speech by new governor, Jay Inslee. The rally had a few hundred people, mainly refugees and immigrants themselves. It was a great day as the refugees and immigrants also got to meet with legislators to voice their concerns. The students in the pre-employment class found it very rewarding to be able to voice their opinions and help future refugees and immigrants.” -Denis

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Traci: IRC Seattle’s Speakers Bureau

One new program I am currently developing with the help of two volunteers is our Speakers Bureau. The Speakers Bureau will teach our refugee participants valuable knowledge regarding public speaking and writing. Our volunteers will help participants develop the content of their stories to be presented and help them gain public speaking skills. The volunteers will then arrange speaking and tabling events for the participants to speak at.

This week we had our first Speakers Bureau training. The Speakers Bureau will connect outreach to donors, sponsors, and volunteers directly with former IRC refugee clients, who can teach about refugee issues and share their own stories. We had a two-hour training and a few eager new participants. It was great to see how eager they are to share their personal stories with people in their community!

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Brie: Filling the Gap

It was the third time she came to visit me in my office.  At 5:30pm, I could see her smiling face through the window in my office door. 

“Are you busy?” she asked in heavily accented English.

Although I was, I surprised myself with: “Not really, come on in.”

 Amina* had been coming to me intermittently for the last few weeks to ask for advice on her job search and even for help applying to a position.  Despite the fact that she was applying to wash laundry at a hotel, I was stunned by her credentials and her tenacity.  Sitting at the computer, going through the endless application questionnaire, I learned that she was very entrepreneurial.  Already, in the decade she has been here, she had begun two businesses: a coffee shop and a food shop.  I shuddered at the prospect of owning my own business – and navigating American culture and its lumbering and inefficient systems of bureaucracy are almost innate to me.

 Amina, like so many other East African refugees, can speak enough English to get by, but is at a middle school level of reading and writing skills.  Hardly knowing how to use a keyboard, Word, email, or Google, she is ‘pre-literate’ in computer skills.  She is like many of the refugees who come to East African Community Service seeking help with a job application.  Often what that help looks like is an employee creating a resume, translating every question, navigating to the online application page, creating an account, and filling out one or more lengthy applications. 

 I am not the only person to take some time out of my work day to help a person apply to a job: everyone, including the Executive Director, has helped a few people with job searches.  Noticing this time-consuming trend, I started telling people I would put together an application workshop.  I put together the initial plans: I would recruit volunteer translators from the community, as well as a few volunteers skilled in internet navigation and Microsoft Word.  Excited about my idea, I brought it up to the Executive Director.  He looked at me thoughtfully, and said “if that’s what you want to do, you can do it.”

 Encouraged, I brought the idea up to a co-worker, and saw my plans come to a screeching halt.  She acknowledged the community need, but cautioned me that I was opening Pandora’s Box.  It boiled down to the fact that, if I were to host a resume workshop, I would suddenly have to accommodate an enormous onslaught of jobseekers.  I was told that news would spread so quickly, and I would become “The Job Person.” 

 And I know it’s true.  East African Community Services is located in the community center of a government-subsidized community housing complex.  Everyone is here because they need a job, or at least a steadier job.  As a small community based organization with employees who are already stretched thin, we cannot support a program with such high demand.   At least, not yet.   

 I am not giving up my hope to start an employment program.  I will be bringing it up to the board at the strategic planning workshop, I will be keeping an eye out for funding opportunities, I will be exploring creating an internship opportunity so as not be the sole manager, and I will be calling similar ethnic organizations to explore best practices for an employment program in the Rainier Valley.

 The moral of the story is that, in between organizational capacity and community need, there is always a gap.  It’s hard to know my exact role within that gap – and I think I will have a long career trying to find out just that.

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Wuhye: Celebrating Volunteers!

Club Bamboo Volunteer Appreciation LuncheonAsian Counseling and Referral Service’s Club Bamboo Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon – The event was organized by Refugee Support Network VISTA Wuhye Chun and MLK Solid Ground VISTA Bri Kame.

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Doree: Freedom, Justice, Power Summit

This month, I was able to broaden my racial equity work at School’s Out Washington by presenting at Franklin High School’s “Freedom, Justice, Power Summit.” Fellow VISTA Bruce McGregor and I facilitated two workshops concerning the school-to-prison pipeline and the ways social justice ties into problems in school discipline. We put on brave faces to be in front of 30 teenagers with great results. It was great having such an open platform for students to have a dialogue and discuss solutions to such a pressing problem.

 

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