Volunteering with Refugees: Ehklas's story
The night is still. A Sudanese family is sleeping soundly in their beds when suddenly the noise of gunfire violently wakes everyone. Screams are heard from the streets surrounding the house and desperate panic ensues. The family huddles together hoping no gunslinging rebel barges into their home. After a tense half an hour or so the sounds of war begin to fade away. But the family knows they can no longer live safely where they are. Fleeing is their only option; they are forced to completely start over.
Refugee life is extremely difficult. They can lose everything due to war or government persecution. Refugees are completely removed from their previous life and forced to rebuild from the ground up in a foreign (and often unfriendly) environment. A study completed by The Urban Institute showed that many refugees are socially isolated, and cannot thrive without connection to those around them.
Fortunately, refugees who are embraced by the local community learn to not only help themselves but also help others. This video detailing Ekhlas's story from refugee to teacher shows how much a person can grow in a new environment when their community surrounds them.
"When I first came here I felt like a stranger, but I had such amazing teachers and mentors that kept me going." Ehklas Ahmed
Ehklas's mentors and guidance counselors found that helping her grow made an impact in their lives as well as other refugee student's lives.
"[Her students] love her so much, they know they can trust her. I've seen how far she's come, and I've been lucky to be part of that" Guidance Counselor Michael Hale
It’s one thing to find a place to live where you won’t be shot at. But it’s quite another to be able to thrive and rebuild a sustainable life in that place. Unlike Ehklas, many refugees are ignored and left to fend for themselves socially and economically. This can be extremely hard to do obstacles such as language barriers and prejudice against them. In order for refugees to thrive and settle in their new home, their entire community must support them. There may be more refugees in your area than you realize; they need your help.
Here are some ways you can help refugees make a smoother transition:
- Partner with a local agency, or work with refugees you know personally, to help them practice their English
- Organize routine health check-ups to immigrants that have no health coverage
- Conduct a cultural understanding class that teaches the nuances of American culture and practice
- Provide free or low-cost childcare for families (i.e. while the parents are in classes etc.)
- Hold information seminars on where things are in your community (locations of libraries, schools, clinics, and government agencies)
Start helping by signing up to volunteer.