Monthly Archives: July 2013

Brie – East African Community Services

When immigrants or refugees come to the United States, they receive assistance with finding employment, taking language classes, accessing social services,  navigating public transportation, and finding  housing.  However, the people who come into the United States, torn from their home countries by war and adversity, lose their federal eligibility for these services after 3 to 5 short years.  What happens when a person still hasn’t learned the language, hasn’t learned to use a computer, hasn’t secured permanent housing, or a job?  EACS faces this question every day.  Yes, a person can become accustomed to a country, but can they learn how to read and write well enough to fill out paperwork? Can they learn English, reading and writing skills, and computer skills well enough so that they can apply for a job on-line?  We at EACS are finding that the answer to these questions is that many people cannot actually access these services.  Almost every day, EACS is asked to help a person search for jobs on line, write a cover letter, and/or fill out an on-line application.  As much as we try not to turn anyone away from our office, we do not have the capacity to sit with a person and walk them through the process of looking for a job.  Many times, we try to direct them to a an organization that can offer them the comprehensive care they really need, but organizations like that are few and far between, or their services are limited to only a few hours per week.   Many times, the process of going to Workforce or an unemployment office is terribly bureaucratic that it can feel like getting stuck in a hamster wheel  – and the people who come through our doors know this.  Can I, in good conscience, refer a person to an organization that even I can hardly get a hold of someone who can answer my questions, even though I’m a fluent English speaker who grew up in U.S. culture!  With significant challenges on the path toward establishing a referral system, I will continue in my search to find a service that will help instead of deter the members of the East African community, whom I have grown to so deeply care about.

Nick – Somali Community Service Coalition

While I worked as an agricultural extension agent in the Peace Corps, I lived in a constant state of fear of bringing certain doom to my farmers’ lives. We worked in collaboration to improve agricultural practices with ‘sustainability’ as the goal. This required experimentation, so we were encouraged by our trainers to use discretion and experimental planting plots when attempting new methods, in the hopes that any failure would not bring financial ruin or worse to a family or community. The likelihood of failure was even greater considering I usually had little to no idea what I was doing. I had many project ideas, but I had to approach them carefully and with the expectation that everything would go wrong.

From my first week at Somali Community Services Coalition, I realized that we needed a new website. The page was disorganized, a lot of the material was irrelevant, and didn’t reflect the current state of our organization and programs. The problem was that the page was controlled by an outside IT person who was difficult to contact and who said that we would be unable to make the changes to the website ourselves, leaving us paying for a service we could not fully utilize. I had no idea how to make a new website. After doing some basic research, I built a practice page and slowly started to become confident that I could handle the process myself. I talked to my ED and told the IT person I wanted to start and complete the process of changing website hosts in the next week, and then waited to hear back from him. A couple days later, I wondered to myself, “Why hasn’t that organization responded to my proposal by the response date…?” Another day passed, and I thought to myself, “Why have I not received email in three days?” Then, I began hearing my coworkers grumble about not receiving any emails. Then text messages begin coming in about our website being down. I felt the tinge of panic in my heart when I finally realized what had happened. Before communicating it to us, the IT person had removed the website, and in doing so had left our email non-functioning. This would have been a problem anytime, but it was particularly bad timing since we were in the process of recruiting volunteers and participants for our summer education program, and I was indirectly responsible for the hindrance of this. I had inadvertently salted SCSC’s fields.

After countless YouTube videos, several miscommunications, many ‘WTF’s, and staring at numbers whose meaning I still don’t understand, I was eventually able to set up the new website and re-start our email. SCSC now has a website that is fully functional, up to date, and able to be utilized by the organization for less money than we were paying for a professionally managed website before. I believe this will further the sustainability and autonomy of SCSC as a whole.

My experience in Peace Corps taught me many things, but I think the most important was reinforcing the notion that there cannot be any success without risks. It’s important to approach things in a well thought out manner, but things will always go imperfectly, especially in the small, resource limited, CBOs, that VISTAs often work in. I failed to make an important consideration and we didn’t have email for a week, but better done imperfectly than not done at all. After all, I didn’t starve a village.

Our new website is at somalicsc.org

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Erika – IRC Apartment Set-up

“Have you run across a rice cooker? How about a men’s razor? And shower curtain rings?” Nick asked, looking up from his checklist. These are just a few of the items the IRC provides to newly arrived refugee families; others include: plumped pillows, silverware, a hot meal, shampoo, a kitchen table… the list goes on. The motto of the IRC is ‘from harm to home,’ and there are teams of dedicated staff members ensuring that every family has not only a house, but a home.

As I organized pots and pans and set the clock on the microwave, I thought about the family that would live here. What would the mother make for dinner? Would it make more sense to have the cooking oil above the stove or right next to it? Where do the potholders go? Should I unwrap the silverware so it is more homey or leave it in plastic so they know it’s new?

This apartment was the first I’d ever set up, but our Logistics Coordinator Nick Brown has organized hundreds. “The process of coming to the United States can be an exceptionally trying and draining process for a refugee. The trip takes many hours, if not days to complete, and once the individual or family arrives they still face challenges in assimilating to their new community. Having a furnished apartment with beds made, the toiletries laid out, food in the fridge and plates in the cupboards can be a huge relief for the weary.”

The IRC in Seattle, on average, receives two to three refugee families per week, and they are all given a furnished apartment. Coordinating this requires an immense amount of organization and community support, but the result, giving refugee families a toehold in their new country, is well worth the effort.

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