Over the days since the attacks in Beirut and Paris, WRDA has gotten a lot of questions, and our Executive Director has spoken with many members of the press. So, we thought it might be helpful to the readers of our monthly newsletter to see how Emily is responding to some of the questions many people have in light of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris and the announcement on Monday by Illinois Governor Rauner seeking to bar Syrian refugees from Illinois.
Is WRDA still resettling refugees after Governor Rauner's announcement?
Yes. It is not yet clear if any governor can seek to bar individuals legally admitted to the U.S. by the federal government from their state. I have spoken with people at the U.S. Department of State who will be advising refugee resettlement organizations like World Relief, but the situation is not yet clear. But even while the resettlement of Syrian refugees is debated, there are refugees from many other parts of the world who are arriving and who we are serving in community with many local churches and volunteers. We are committed to welcoming and serving because that is part of our Christian mission, and we believe that our communities will continue to be welcoming places as they have been for over 35 years.
Do you believe the resettlement program is safe?
Yes, I do. The process of screening refugees prior to entrance into the U.S. is the most rigorous of any process that exists for a foreign national to enter the country. It is more detailed and thorough than tourist visas, student visas and work visas. The process has been very effective and has been refined over the many years since the Refugee Act started in 1980, and especially as conditions in our world have changed. It has been proven successful in protecting the American people. Since 9/11 nearly 800,000 refugees have been admitted. None have committed terrorist acts, though 3 people were detained and questioned, but they did not do any harm. The process works. I am not afraid.
If things like the attacks in Paris can happen in Europe, why do you not think they can happen here?
Like France we are vulnerable to what our own citizens do, and it does appear that the perpetrators of these attacks are mostly, if not all, European Union citizens. But, beyond that, comparing the migrant situation in Europe to refugees in the U.S. is comparing two very different things. Migrants enter Europe directly from conflict zones, and they are, by and large, people seeking asylum - like those who enter other neighboring countries from other world conflicts (Burundi, Chad, Nepal and Malaysia are some examples). These migrants may have been in their home country just days before entering Europe. And, while they may receive refugee status at some point, they are just starting on a process of having their claims verified. In contrast, refugees admitted to the U.S. have been able to prove their claim of persecution through the United Nations, been referred to the United States and undergone a multi-agency (Homeland Security, FBI, United States Citizenship and Immigration Service) screening by specially trained staff. Our program is simply not like what is happening in Europe.
Isn’t ANY possible risk too much risk?
No, not for us as a Christian ministry organization or for us as Christians. Love is messy. Love may involve risk when we risk our hearts in friendship with another person. But love is our mission. We are called by Jesus to welcome and to love. We respond in love because we were first loved by Him. We are also called to “do good”, not just to those who are like us, but to all people. We cannot shut down compassion and continue to be like Jesus. We need to be showing love and working as a nation, as NGOs and as the church in all areas of dealing with the suffering that war brings. For those in conflict zones we work to improve situations and bring peace; for those displaced inside their country or in neighboring countries we provide aid and seek to make a safe place of refuge for them where they are; and for those who complete the rigorous process to enter the United States, we welcome them as our neighbors and our future fellow-citizens. We are called to follow Jesus’ definition of “neighbor” in caring for others as told in the story we call the Good Samaritan. Serving for this Samaritan was not particularly safe, it was messy, it involved some cost and some sacrifice, and it was aimed at someone not at all himself. Our risk is managed by a good program, but we must also risk to show love.
How does WRDA select refugees to be resettled in DuPage and Kane Counties?
Actually, we don’t. There are 9 national organizations that work with the US Department of State, of which World Relief is one. The focus of the Department of State is to run a humanitarian resettlement program, which means that the U.S. focuses on the most vulnerable – children, single mothers, the elderly and those facing medical challenges. About 50% of the refugees referred to the US are under age 18. Refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations, screened by multiple federal agencies and then given by the Department of State to one of the agencies who will assist with the on-the-ground resettlement work. Every week representatives of the 9 organizations meet together with the Department of State and cases are distributed. In the simplest terms, WRDA is notified of cases assigned to us and we prepare to receive the family.
How many Syrians does WRDA expect to resettle?
Over recent years, WRDA has welcomed 5 families from Syria. While we anticipate about 575 refugees between now and the end of September next year, only a very small portion of those are anticipated to be from Syria. We never know exact numbers until we are assigned cases from the Department of State. Despite what people may see online, the goal of the State Department is to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees as a part of the 85,000 refugees slated to enter the U.S. by next September. I have heard rumors and false social media posts saying that 10,000 Syrians will arrive by January. This is just not true. Because of the screening process for refugees, about the only Syrians who could possibly arrive this federal year are people who are already in the screening processes, and who have been already working through the process for months or years.
How can I or my church help?
Learn more. Fear is often the result of misinformation and the more we can spread facts and truth, the more we can help combat fear. I and others at WRDA would be happy to talk with any churches or members of our community to give more information and to help build understanding that reduces fear. We want to encourage looking to scripture and the character of God as our guide for our actions, not our political situation.
Pray. This is not a platitude, this is a plea for a genuine seeking of God’s favor on our world, strength for us in our task of loving others, peace in areas where chaos reigns, and for power in His church to be the salt and light this world desperately needs. If you need some ideas for prayer, we have our prayer guide on our website that gives 7 days of focus to how pray for refugees.
Act. I know that refugees who are already in our community are afraid as they hear the negative backlash against “refugees.” They need to know that they are welcome in our communities. Please be a part of an active welcome – which means meeting refugees, helping meet their needs here and being a friend they can count on. We have a lot of ways to get involved, including #GivingTuesday in just a couple of weeks. Others are listed here: (get involved page)
Is there anything else that you think people reading the WRDA newsletter should know?
Serving and loving people in our broken and frightening world is hard. I do not take lightly the events taking place nor the responsibility WRDA assumes as a small part of the U.S. Resettlement Program, but I and the team here seek to serve and love as we have been loved and to provide opportunity for a new start to some of the millions of refugees, who are themselves victims of terrorism, violence, war and horrible atrocities. We continue to be grateful for those who serve with and alongside of us and the immigrants of our community. I’ve been holding on to the verse in 2 Timothy as this week has unfolded, where the apostle Paul reminds the young Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” I hope that spirit will continue to lead us.
Rami Abou Jabr grew up in a middle class family in Homs, Syria. He never expected the devastation of his homeland and his family that would come in 2011. He had a normal Syrian childhood; his father worked as a cab driver and his mother stayed at home to care for the children, including Rami, his brother Raed, who was born with developmental disabilities, and 2 sisters. After high school Rami went to university while working in a granite factory, finishing granite countertops. After finishing his associates in veterinary science, be began assisting a veterinarian with caring for cows and eventually chickens, providing them with vaccinations. Rami stated that there were probably 5,000 chicken at each site where they worked. He liked working with animals because he was able to care for them and know that they were all being treated well.
Everything began to change when the Syrian revolution started in March of 2011. Rami remembers that at first there were just protestors in the Homs region. Then the government and police counteracted and things became increasingly violent. From their home the family could hear the gunfire outside the city. A short time later the violence and aggression moved through the city itself. In Rami’s neighborhood people were leaving in large numbers, until only those who had lived there for a lifetime were left. Rami’s family stayed at first because his father was ill and needed regular medical treatment. But he often would not go the hospital because it was periodically taken over by soldiers and was not safe.
Rami fled to neighboring Turkey to try to find a safe home and work so that he could take care of his family, including his wife Rajaa and their 2 children. He eventually found work as an air conditioner repairman and sent for Rajaa and the children. She made the difficult journey to Turkey alone with their 3 year old son and their one year old daughter. She took whatever rides she could get, going from car to car. She did not know the people who transported her and the trip was both dangerous and frightening.
While Rami and Rajaa were in Turkey, Rami’s father died because he could not get the medical care he needed. This was a huge blow to the family, and especially to Raed who was always close to his father, who took special care of him because of his challenges. Rapidly, conditions in Homs became even more dangerous, and Rami’s mother could not even take the time to mourn her husband according to their customs. Instead she gathered the family and fled to join Rami in Turkey.
With the whole family in Turkey and his father gone, Rami held the weighty responsibility of caring for his own family, plus his mother, brother and sisters. His mother and 2 sisters worked in a garment factory for a time, but they often did not have enough money to pay rent or to purchase food. They remember being treated poorly because they were Syrian refugees without rights or protections. Local citizens saw them as a drain on the society and employers could choose to mistreat or cheat them without any consequences.
After applying to the United Nations and being referred for resettlement to the United States, the family arrived in Aurora in 2015. Other members of their extended family have also fled Syria, some recently making it to Germany. Rami and Rajaa say that they thank God for being able to come to the U.S. because they know that many people do not have this chance. They want to make the best of this opportunity, and dream of a good education for their children. They are thankful for the labor laws of the U.S. and that their employers here do not mistreat or abuse them and that they pay a fair, consistent wage. In the U.S. they have found respect and a new home.
Rami hopes in future to continue his education and return to working with animals. He also wants to share the story of his family so that others will understand the trials of the Syrian people, but also so that they will know that there is hope.
Rami and Rajaa will be joining WRDA on Thursday, November 12 at 7 p.m. at Café K’Tizo in Wheaton for a special event, “Spotlight on Syria.” The event is open to the public and World Relief staff will be sharing about the Syrian refugee crisis and our global and local response.
They came from over 50 countries and gathered together at the McAninch Center on the campus of the College of DuPage (COD) with one common goal – to be a citizen of the United States. In a solemn ceremony, some 250 new Americans took the oath of citizenship in an event co-sponsored by World Relief DuPage/Aurora (WRDA), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and COD. United States Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL) was also on hand to welcome the new citizens.
“Becoming a citizen gives our clients peace of mind in knowing their rights can’t be stripped away,” Catherine Norquist, WRDA’s Immigrant Legal Services Director, said. “Particularly those refugees who haven’t had citizenship in other countries now feel like they can say, ‘I’m a part of this country.’”
To become a citizen, an immigrant must be a lawful permanent resident for at least four years, nine months (or two years, nine months if married to U.S. Citizen for at least three years) and be able to speak, read and write English. Applicants must also pass a one-on-one interview with a USCIS official and demonstrate a knowledge of U.S. civics and history through a test. For many people, the journey is considerably longer, taking years or even decades.
In addition to the time required to achieve this goal, there is a significant financial investment for all new citizens. The combination of government application fees and other costs can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, but WRDA can screen citizenship applicants for eligibility of a waiver of the application fee for naturalization.
WRDA helps some 700 applicants become citizens each year. The staff of attorneys and accredited legal representatives works with church and community volunteers to offer citizenship clinics, often held in churches. At these clinics, legal staff screen for eligibility, and trained volunteers provide help filling out the USCIS application before the case is reviewed and submitted. To help prepare for the interview and civics test, WRDA education staff offer citizenship classes, and some local churches have developed citizenship tutoring centers to help immigrants prepare.
Many of WRDA’s citizenship services are funded through a federal grant administered by USCIS and, until recently a state program called the New Americans Initiative (NAI). Due to the budget impasse in Springfield, funding for NAI was eliminated on July 1. With the loss of state funding, WRDA has been forced to make some service changes. “These cuts have forced us to scale back off-site clinics in the community and tied our services to fees,” Norquist said. “We are seeking other sources of funding to maintain staff.”
Despite the challenges, seeing the dream of citizenship come true for so many people fuels WRDA’s determination to maintain a strong program for people like Ben (named changed for confidentiality), who spent over 15 years stateless. Having been stripped of his citizenship and civil rights by the government of his home country because of his ethnic group, Ben was forced into slave labor on a farm. He escaped to a neighboring country and was later resettled as a refugee. After 5 years he has now become a citizen of the U.S., and has taken his place in a long line of immigrants who have built America.
This August marks the 80th Anniversary of President Roosevelt’s signing the Social Security Act into law. Social Security has become a part of the fabric of American society - but to newly arrived refugees the program has a special significance.
Many refugees are “stateless” people, meaning that they are not citizens of any country. Without status or rights in any country, many refugees who come from Bhutan through Nepal, have been forbidden from working. The prohibition is part of the larger exclusion from normal society that refugees endure. For some us that may sound like a nice long vacation, “but when you’re not allowed to work for years and you have that taken away, it is wonderful to suddenly have someone say, ‘No, you’re allowed to do that here. We think that you have something to contribute,’” Alison Bell, World Relief Senior Resettlement Manager explains. “I think there’s a lot of significance in this little card. This little number in its own way says, ‘you belong here and you’re wanted and you’re one of us.’”
This card is so important that applying for it is one of the first tasks newly arriving refugees complete, with the help of WRDA staff or volunteers. Their Social Security card is one of the first official U.S. documents many of them receive. It is this document that refugees often use to prove their eligibility to work in the United States and within the first 2-3 months after arrival many World Relief clients find jobs with the help of WRDA’s employment services team.
Those first jobs allow clients to not only support themselves but provide a source of dignity and pride that many refugees had lost. Work is something that helps their own family and refugees immediately begin to contribute into the Social Security system that pays out benefits to retired pensioners, the unemployed, survivors of deceased workers, and the disabled. An article in the New York Times quotes a Social Security Administration official as saying that immigrants pay well over $15 billion annually into the Social Security system. At some future time or at retirement, refugee workers may be able to draw on those benefits, but more immediately, being part of the system and the workforce is part of belonging to the larger community.
Many refugees lost a sense of belonging through spent years in refugee camps or urban settings after being forced to flee their home country. Now in the United States and desiring to put down new roots, there is great power in a little 2”x3.5” paper card. With it, Bell adds, “we’re in a position where we can say, ‘Every American has this number. You’re here, you belong, here’s your number. You’re part of us. You get to work too.’”
I was born in 2001 in Baghdad, Iraq. At this time my father was in the Iraqi army, and he told us that the U.S. was coming to help. Saddam Hussein lied about having weapons of mass destruction so that the United States would be scared. My family was happy because they needed Saddam dead. He was not good to the Iraqi people.
We were scared because of the war. Baghdad was a dangerous place to live. The U.S. soldiers used to come into houses and take the men to jail. There were dead bodies in the streets, no water, no gas, and no power at times.
Things were not great in Baghdad because we didn’t have a lot of money. We all lived in one room and we all got sick, but we were happy because my father was with us.
My father found a better job working with his friend from school, and we found another house. We were so happy! It had a bathroom, and we could take showers. Then two years later, my father went back to the army because we needed more money. There were a lot bombs close to my house at that time. One day, bombs went off that were really close, and I was under the window when they exploded. My dad pulled me back, and almost the glass went in my face. This is why we had to move to another house. It was nice and good and we didn’t have any problems. But then we had a bigger problem.
My father was Sunni, and when he went back to the army we couldn’t say to the people that my father was in the army because they would put bombs in my house or take me or my father.
One day, my father was sitting outside and my uncle looked at him and said, “You need to get inside. If someone sees you, they’re going to shoot you!” We were all scared. If someone knocked on the door my father couldn’t open the door, just me or my mom could. He couldn’t go to the market. One day I needed a drink. I told my father, but my mom told him, “You can’t go. Please.” My grandmother had to go get me one.
At the funeral of my uncle, they tried to take my father away, but my other uncle helped him.
One day, 2 bombs were under the tank that my father was driving. They blew up, but he did not die. A month later, I was in my house, and I opened the door. I saw my father and half of his face was bleeding. He was ok, but he couldn’t hear out of his left ear.
A month after that, in 2008, my father died in the army. This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. We talked to him the night before, and he was planning to come home in the morning. He was going to bring two white birds home for me. He did this every month, and together we would let the birds go flying away.
At that time I knew I would not have a dad again. In the morning they called my mom and told her he died. When they told me, I was outside and needed to go to school. After that, we didn’t have dad, or money, or food, but my uncle helped us a lot.
When I was a kid I didn’t know anyone like me who didn’t have a father. Why just me? I cried and told everyone I needed my father.
In the mornings when I walked to school, I didn’t know if someone was going to take me away from my family or if a car would shoot at me, but I walked with my friends so we were not scared. People told my uncle, “Don’t worry, we are not going to kill Mohammed.” I was there, and I saw what he said. My mom was scared and worried about me. Her face it was yellow.
When my father died, a school was hard for me. After school, I got in fights with other people. I know you will say, “WHY?” I fought because they said bad words to me, so this made me fight.
I’m never going to say my friends are bad or all the people there are bad. I like Iraq very much, and the people, my friends, they are really good. If just one or two people are bad, that doesn’t mean all the country is bad. I like my uncle, and I care about my family. I need them around me. I don’t want anyone to hurt. I need to take them to a safe place.
One day my grandfather told my family about IOM (International Office for Migration). When he told us about that, we didn’t think it was real.
When we came to the U.S., it was snowing when I got out of the airplane. It was great, but the first day I couldn’t go out. I was scared about going to the school. I didn’t speak English. My sister wanted to go back to Iraq. She cried all the time.
But now I like this time. It is really good. I like my friends, and I speak English. It is hard to buy a car, though. My mom got work, and we need go step by step. We got better when my mom got her license. Thank God for this good year. Maybe we will get better and better every year.
When I came here I needed to do what my father needs me to. I told him I would be a pilot someday. I have to do this, and I need to go back to Iraq and tell him I’m a pilot. This was his dream, and all my family knows this. The last thing I need to say is thanks to all people for helping me.
Approximately six years ago, The Justice Conference was created to be a forum where people of faith could gather and discuss the world’s injustices. Now, the conference is the largest Biblical and social justice conference of its kind. Presented by World Relief, the event seeks to bring together world-class speakers, pastors, authors and artists to answer the questions: what is justice and how do I become an advocate for peace? As a global event, the conference has been held in both Hong Kong, China and Melbourne, Australia---but this year it came here to Chicago!
On June 5 & 6, individuals from around the world ascended on Roosevelt University’s Auditorium Theater in downtown Chicago to learn about the current injustices of our world. Over the course of two days, speakers invited attendees to think differently about inequality and presented a Biblical framework for how Christian faith and social justice go hand-in-hand.
Because the conference was held locally this year, several World Relief DuPage/Aurora staff members had the opportunity to attend. When asked about their experience, each felt similarly reenergized and renewed in purpose. Below are some of the highlights shared.
“After attending the conference, I feel led to make more direct connections to the refugees we serve. I’ve started by inviting a family over to my house for dinner and plan to do that with others. Not as a way to “help” them, but just as a way to make relationships and connections. I don’t feel like I can honestly do the work of “justice” without more personal relationships and experiences.”
- Liz Clinton, Education Manager, Aurora
“For me, although the word justice is currently in vogue, it still represent a timeless and key value for Christians. It is an expression of what Jesus said that he came to the earth to accomplish (Luke 4:18).”
-Zach Taylor, Employment Specialist
“I enjoyed many of the speakers, but personally I needed to hear Bob Goff’s reminder that the journey of Christians when seeking justice is not heavy-laden or a crippling burden. We must approach injustices with a heart or attitude of whimsy and joy because of the Good News we have and the source of where justice comes from.”
-Casey Barrette Children & Youth Program Manager, Aurora
The Justice Conference will once again take place in Chicago in June 2016—and registration is already open! If you would like to be a part of this live-changing experience, and receive the early registration discount, visit http://www.thejusticeconference.com/ today!
Whether refugees have never had access to dental care or just limited access, they often arrive in the U.S. with dental issues. While they receive a comprehensive medical exam, there is currently no provision for dental screening. As a result, Sue Reynolds and Malita Gardner, managers in the Education Department at World Relief in DuPage, partnered with College Church and invited the DuPage County Health Department offers free dental screenings for the students who attend ESL classes at the church those in need.
According to Beth Enke, Assistant Director of the Dental Program for DuPage County, poor oral health can lead to chronic pain, heart disease, and diabetes. And because oral health is directly related to overall health, Enke and her team regularly conduct free dental screenings for populations in need.
The dental program representatives were at the church for an entire week, and by the end of class on Friday, approximately 160 refugees received a dental screening---many for the first time. On Monday and Tuesday, the Dental Program team visited the ESL classes and educated the adults on how to care for their teeth and their children’s teeth. Then on Thursday and Friday, they examined the adults and provided information on where they can get a free cleaning. Those with a decay problem were referred to an area dentist who accepts Medicaid. Furthermore, one refugee patient was immediately scheduled to see an oral surgeon due to signs of oral cancer.
Currently, the tooth decay rate in DuPage County is 52%. “The leading reason kids miss school is tooth decay or a dental problem; therefore, the younger we can screen them the better,” said Enke. As a result, pre-school children enrolled in the WRD Early Education Program were examined along with their parents. Plus, if they were able to tolerate the exam well, they had their teeth cleaned by the Smile Squad in the mobile dental unit.
With the goal of screening nearly 6,000 DuPage County residents per year, Enke looks forward to bringing the Dental Program back to World Relief and continuing to offer free dental assistance to the refugee population in DuPage County.
Last fall, *John arrived in the U.S. as a refugee with his family---but safety was only one of the challenges his family faced. He needed to work, but his wife was struggling with a debilitating heart condition; his daughter was suffering from unstable diabetes; and his brother was confined to a wheelchair. After learning about the family’s circumstances, WRDA staff and volunteers began planning to meet their many needs.
Helping clients in complex situations requires coordination of efforts, collaboration across services and programs, involvement of the church, and community volunteer support.
The first year of resettlement is crucial in every case---especially in complicated situations. Therefore, staff across WRDA programs come together weekly to coordinate services and track client progress. The meeting is comprised of representatives from each area of service: initial resettlement, medical, education, employment, and counseling. And while the weekly meeting is not the only time for staff collaboration, it is key.
"The purpose of the case briefing meeting is to help staff coordinate and plan services, as well as communicate client progress," said Susan Sperry, Refugee Services Director.
With the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration, the staff share information and collaborate on problem-solving. At the intervals of 3, 7 and 11 months post arrival, each household or individual case is reviewed and staff identify key areas for follow-up and service provision. Individuals or households struggling to adjust receive the benefit of a multi-tiered coordination of services.
Every case is different; therefore, the intensity of services varies too. According to Sperry, a team-based approach to case management is the most effective because refugees receive the layers of care needed to be successful in the U.S.
"The goal is to have each refugee family well-grounded by the end of the first year," said Sperry.
And while there is no exact definition for success, the vision of World Relief is to see people transformed economically, socially and spiritually, which can be understood in terms of some key benchmarks:
- The ability to pay bills, which means the individual or member of the household has a job with a steady income
- A network of support in the community, which includes friends, neighbors, churches, faith communities, and other service providers
Working together across disciplines and integrating volunteers, the team is able to address multiple and complex challenges in ways that individual workers cannot; for example, John and his family.
After securing a handicapped-accessible apartment for the family, their case manager brought together the medical coordinator and a representative from the education and employment teams. Together, the team prepared a proactive plan for stabilization and provided updates on the family’s progress during their weekly case briefing meeting. The plan was discussed with John and implemented through a combination of staff and volunteer activity designed to meet the goals of stability and progress toward healthy integration.
Within three months, John secured a job, his wife had heart surgery, both John and his daughter learned how to manage her diabetes, and the entire family was connected to volunteers from a local church.
Click here to learn more about the departments that make up Refugee Services at WRDA.
* For the protection of the client, we have changed his name to John for the purpose of retelling his story
The New Year is synonymous with a fresh start. As December draws to a close, many people commit to a resolution---often to manage their health, money, or time better. For a refugee leaving behind their home and culture, a new beginning can seem overwhelming. However, despite challenges and fears, refugees arrive in the U.S. with concrete goals for the future.
Prior to Christmas break, Karen Edwards, WRDA ESL Instructor in DuPage, gave her students a goal-setting assignment from their Step Forward 2 textbook. Students were asked to read an article about a person who wanted to become a chef, which led to a class discussion of goals and the steps required to reach the goal. Edwards decided to take the assignment further and asked the students to write a paragraph about their personal goal. And because many of the students are creative and artistic, she also asked them to draw an illustration.
“The assignment came alive when the students shared their goals during class in small groups,” said Edwards.
Sensing the students’ enthusiasm, Edwards asked if anyone wanted to come to the front of the class and be recorded on video---and several students were brave enough to do it. According to Edwards, students who shared on camera not only talked about their goals, but their dreams too!
Adil Idris Adam Ali has been in the U.S for only 11 months. Originally from the Sudan, he enjoys exploring nature and working outside. As a result, his goal is to become a geologist; however, in order to reach this goal, Adil knows that he must continue with English classes. Currently, he works third shift packaging magazines for distribution, but hopes to be moved to the first shift soon so that he can start taking classes at College of DuPage.
Maha Mohamed was resettled by WRDA approximately 18 month ago. She was working towards becoming a nurse in her home country of Sudan prior to fleeing to Egypt for safety. Today, she still dreams about becoming a nurse; therefore, she continues to attend WRDA ESL classes to improve her English. Maha’s goal is to start nursing school in three years. However, nursing is not her only goal. Due to her love of baking, Maha’s second dream is to be a chef.
Exiled from his home country of Burma, Kaw Tha Blay spent 13 years in a refugee camp prior to being resettled by World Relief in DuPage. Fortunately, Kaw was able to attend school in the camp and learn some English, but he craves more education. In fact, he wants to earn a teaching degree so that he can teach others English and how to use a computer. After experiencing so much conflict in Burma, Kaw believes that in order for people to live in peace together they must be educated; therefore, he hopes to reach his goal of becoming a teacher by the year 2030.
When Bibi Rai was just 16 years-old, he fled the Bhutan with his family for a refugee camp in Napal, where they lived for 18 years. Because his father passed away when Bibi was young, he only attended school for a couple of years because he had to help support his family. However, with little education and no understanding of English, he has landed a job, earned a driver’s license, and purchased a car. Mechanically inclined, Bibi is now working towards his goal of becoming a car mechanic. He would like to start preparing for his new career now, but knows that he must improve his English speaking and writing skills. Ideally, his dream is to start his training in the next six months.
Learning to speak, read, and write the English is the foundation to achieving any goal for a newly arrived refugee. If you would like to be a part of helping someone realize their dream by becoming an ESL tutor, contact Jamie Daling, Volunteer Services Manager, at 630-462-7566 x 1046 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For those of us born in the United States, citizenship is not something we think about on a regular basis. However, for the refugee or immigrant who has fled their country due to war, oppression or violence, the pursuit of citizenship is always at the forefront because it means having a country to call home again.
In 2009, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services [USCIS] began the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program, awarding grants to immigrant-serving organizations to help them better assist permanent residents preparing for citizenship. In 2012, World Relief DuPage/Aurora [WRDA] submitted an application and was one of two Illinois organizations to receive this Federal grant.
“We were honored to receive this grant. It’s highly competitive---only 40 grants are given nationally each grant cycle,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Director of Education.
At the time of the announcement, the grant criteria did not allow for organizations to reapply when the grant cycle was over, which would end funding for Citizenship Classes, citizenship tutor training, and certain ILS services. However, in 2013, the guidelines were changed---allowing WRDA to reapply.
Last week, WRDA learned that the USCIS grant was renewed for another two years. The renewal means that the Immigrant Legal Services [ILS] department will be able to continue offering free services to those applying for citizenship, allocate time to more complex applications, and hire part time staff to assist with the administrative process. With regard to education, in addition to offering regular citizenship classes, the grant allows for clients with lower English skills to be served by our teachers who specialize in teaching those with little to no formal education.
Over the next two-year grant period, WRDA will be offering free citizenship classes in both DuPage and Kane counties. In addition to passing a civics test, the applicant must speak, read, and write English; therefore, the focus of each class is on helping the students gain the knowledge and tools needed to pass the naturalization interview. According to Andrea Gerhart, WRDA Education Projects Coordinator and citizenship teacher, the students come to class already internally motivated because obtaining citizenship is so important to them.
“As a teacher, my goal is to equip the students in such a way that they walk into their interview with confidence,” said Gerhart.
Former citizenship student, Sara Gomez, believes that without World Relief classes, she would not have been as prepared for her interview.
“I could have memorized the questions on my own, but I wanted to become a citizen from the inside and outside,” said Gomez.
Motivated by her two children who are citizens by birth, Gomez never missed a class because she wanted to learn all that she could about U.S. history.
“I wanted to understand how freedom was achieved and how women got the right to vote in the U.S.,” said Gomez.
Furthermore, without the commitment of attending a class, Gomez says that she may have not put aside the time every week to study.
Currently, Sara’s mother is starting the application process towards U.S. citizenship and Sara is urging her to enroll World Relief classes. Citizenship classes will begin again in October in Wheaton. For more information on these classes, contact the DuPage office at (630) 462-7660.
To review the steps to citizenship, visit www.worldreliefdupageaurora.org/citizenship-information. Or if you would like to learn about becoming a Citizenship Tutor, helping students who require help outside of class time, contact Jamie Daling, WRDA Volunteer Manager, at email@example.com or 630-462-7566 x 1046.