July 23, 2019
The desperate situation with children and other refugees on our southern border has prompted some Islanders to ask me if there is anything we can do to help the unaccompanied minors find homes until they can be reunited with family. As it turns out, providing foster care on this Island is a bit complicated to sort out, but in the meantime, I wanted to pass on information about how one might offer help to refugee families from another country in a dire situation — Syria.
The family stories below come from Rev. Ann Plumley of Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement (QCRR) in Eastern Connecticut. This organization of volunteers has resettled three families in the past few years and expects another one to arrive this winter. Needs are ongoing, but at the moment specific donations are sought to help two of the mothers obtain driving lessons. In addition, there is a much larger ask for a safe, functional car to open up employment opportunities for one of the fathers. (Donation information is included at end of this article for those interested).
The challenges to helping these families become integrated into life in the US includes everything from learning English to learning what a “snow day” is! Here are some excerpts from a recent email from Rev. Plumley:
“Family #2 arrived in May 2017. They are from Syria. There were a number of unidentifiable health concerns, especially dental issues, that needed to be addressed quickly. Because the timing was so close to the end of the school year, the children weren’t enrolled immediately, but for the start of the regular school year in late August. The late spring and summer were filled with trips to the park and library, walks around the neighborhood, ESL disguised as playtime, and lots of first-time events for adults as well as children. In August, the oldest child entered kindergarten; the middle child participated in full-day pre-K, and the mom and toddler started in a Head Start program coordinated with a mother’s ESL class. The father went to work in early July in the building and maintenance department of the local school system as a per-diem worker – irregular hours and shifts at minimum wage, no benefits. The family has made friends, participates in community events like the Third Thursday street fairs in the summertime, the BoomBox Parade for the 4th of July, the Interfaith Walk for Warmth. Our official resettlement duties ended on schedule after 1 year, but QCRR still supports the family in times of transition, for instance, the father’s quest for better employment, the search for lightweight summer clothing suitable for the mom’s requirements for modesty, when the younger child had a medical emergency. At their request, our volunteers support things like employment-related ESL, the children’s homework assignments, figuring out budgets for unexpected expenses. They are thriving in many but not all aspects of their new lives, feel very settled and committed to the community, and they still face acculturation challenges.
“Family #3, also from Syria, arrived in early March this year. The father has a degree from the University of Damascus (the “Harvard” of Syria), and was an elementary school teacher for 8 years. He would dearly love to return to teaching. The certification process is daunting, to say the least, and his English – while better than the other adults we’ve worked with – is not sufficient at this time for participation in college-level classes. The process of getting detailed transcript and syllabus information from the UofD is incomprehensible, given the failed state of all institutions in Syria at the moment. [With a car] … there could be interesting, affirming and skilled employment options, for instance, as a teacher’s aide, or teaching Arabic in a private school setting, that are beyond the scope of public transportation in the area. Shortly after arrival, the older boy was enrolled in school, in the same classroom as the oldest girl of Family #2. That was a supportive way to introduce him to American style classroom expectations. He’s going to summer school to boost his preparation for advancement to the next grade. The younger boy will be in preschool full time in the fall; the mom will be in the female ESL program during school hours. She’s started working part-time providing Arabic and cooking lessons to a person wanting to bolster what she learned having lived in the Middle East for a few years at an earlier time in her life. This family has hit all the milestones of the resettlement process to date – with ease. Our intense support period is over; we’re in a transitional phase now toward more independence. As always, we’re there for them in emergency / odd / not seen before circumstances. For instance, we have not explained “snow days” yet…
The moms in both of these families have repeatedly and enthusiastically expressed interest in learning to drive. There is no prohibition from their husbands or in the particular cultural context from which they come, however it was not “customary” in their Syrian context. They have female family members and friends who drive without controversy. We have said that learning from your spouse is generally recognized as a bad idea; they might be able to arrange childcare so they could take lessons together. They both have English speaking / reading capabilities to understand the lessons and take the tests with proficiency. They would need to have a female instructor, which does not seem to present a problem in the area – a number of driving schools offer that option. We estimate that expense at about $500 each. If anyone is able to donate toward that, they would simply enclose a note or write something in the memo line of their check.
The most outstanding need for Family #3 is transportation; we’re looking for a donated car. Something in good mechanical condition and suitable for a family of four. We don’t care about age, cosmetics, etc. The dad’s employment prospects, and therefore the family’s financial stability, would be very much enhanced if he were able to get to second job(s) further outside of Willimantic than possible on the scant bus system / bicycling. The donor would be given 501C-3 tax documentation.
QCRR accepts donations – monetary, car – through WAIM. Checks should be made out to Windham Area Interfaith Ministries with QCRR in the memo line and mailed to:
Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement
C/O Windham Area Interfaith Ministries
Willimantic, CT 06226
Another place to know about is ‘The Neighbor Fund” which is, according to their website, “a 501(c)3 nonprofit that supports the immigrant communities of Windham and Tolland counties, providing direct financial support to those facing detention and deportation. More information can be found at www.theneighborfund.org.
On behalf of my colleagues working in Eastern Connecticut to help families find peace and new possibilities, thank you so much for your interest. I am happy to answer any questions I can or direct you to more information.
Rev. Candace Whitman