Refugee Family Mentoring

Immigration Subcommittee

Family Mentoring — Our Initial Visit

Thanks to the generosity of the parish and with guidance and resources provided by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a group of parishioners from St. Ignatius has the unique opportunity to mentor a new family of Americans: mother, father, four sons and three daughters who have arrived as refugees from Afghanistan. With a mix of nervousness, excitement and purposeful determination we made our way to East Baltimore and found the most delightful family living in the shadows of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

At our first meeting, the mother and her daughters welcomed us warmly into their row home while an IRC mentoring coordinator led us through introductions and reiterated our role with the family. Some of the children shared with us their dreams for the future: to become a doctor, an artist, an engineer, a businessman and a businesswoman. Others were a bit too timid to express themselves. The 3-year-old simply was not sure what he wants to be yet!

While we were able to converse with some of the younger children that have a strong command of the English language, we leaned heavily on our IRC interpreter, Davi, to communicate with the elder members of the family. With Davi’s help, we were able to learn about some of the challenges the family has faced adjusting to an English-dominant environment. For example, the mother shared with us that she has struggled to pick up needed medicines at the local pharmacy because the store employees do not speak her language. She expressed a strong motivation to learn English so that she can navigate such situations with greater ease and efficiency.

The father also shared about his experience here in the US. He holds a job in the kitchen at a nearby Afghani carry-out restaurant where he works long and unpredictable hours. Having previously worked in a kitchen before the family left their homeland, he was in contact with American businesspeople and has some knowledge of our culture.

 

His primary focus is on his children’s education. All but the youngest attend nearby public schools.     

Though the family has lived in Baltimore since the summer of 2017, they have not had the chance to explore much of the city. On future visits, we look forward to sharing our favorite aspects of Baltimore such as the Inner Harbor, the farmers’ market, and the Charm City Circulator, which offers free and convenient transportation. We also look forward to assisting the mother as she studies English.

We feel blessed to enter into a relationship with this family, and know we will gain as much knowledge from them as we hope to impart.

Refugee Mentorship Updates

Oct 2019 Update — “Introducing Our Second Mentee Family”
With support from the Justice and Peace Committee, three St. Ignatius parishioners and a parishioner from First Unitarian Church began our six-month period of mentoring a refugee family via the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) Baltimore office. This is the second family that the Immigration Subcommittee (ISC) has been involved with mentoring. Following training by the IRC and passing background checks, we were introduced to a blended, single mother-led family of nine from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The mother, her five children, and three grandchildren arrived less than one year ago in the United States and since then have been trying to make a new life for themselves. The initial meeting was conducted in the presence of a seasoned IRC volunteer and an English/Swahili translator where we learned basic information about the family. After that initial meeting, we’ve been taking turns meeting with the family at their home on a weekly basis for at least two hours a week. Our activities so far have been tailored to what the family has informed us that they would like to focus on. The mother is determined that they all become fluent in English and as such, each visit has included English vocabulary and pronunciation lessons for both the adults and children. We have also walked around their neighborhood with them to know the neighborhood and nearby amenities a bit better, and to work on reading street signs and describing directions in English. In addition to these activities that are required for them to improve their lives in Baltimore we also want to introduce them to some American cultural activities, such as pizza making, which we will highlight in ‘Special Activities’ section.

So far, it has been a humbling experience to find enough English words and hand gestures in order to communicate with the family, but as their English slowly improves, this is getting better. We’ve been inspired by their dedication to building a new life for themselves in Baltimore and learning a new language. The enthusiasm of the children when we arrive each week is nothing short of heartwarming. We’re excited to keep working on English lessons with them in the coming months, as well as to schedule outings for them around town such as Zoo Boo, since the children all have described wanting to visit the zoo and we can incorporate the Halloween tradition. We are also planning to do pumpkin carving and a traditional Thanksgiving event with the family. As we continue to work with the family we will provide monthly updates and ask for your support and prayers as we walk with this family in keeping with the principles of our faith! 

April 2018 Update
This month, our relationship with the family has continued to grow and evolve. We are excited to have added two new members to our group. As our community strengthens, it is beautiful to witness how the family’s sense of home in Baltimore also strengthens. For example, one Saturday this month two of our group members went to Pierce Park at the Inner Harbor with the family. The children had such a good time, they asked if there was a way they could take the bus to the park themselves. It is exciting to see them feel connected to the city. Another activity we did this month was go to the Baltimore Farmers Market. At first, it was slightly overwhelming for the family. But after perusing the Market, the family left satisfied with four dozen eggs! We feel grateful to be able to help the family ease into such new experiences and take full advantage of what this city has to offer.

It has also been exciting to witness the mother’s progress with English. She has learned the vocabulary for colors and household objects, and is currently working on the parts of the body. She has also been practicing grammar. We truly admire her eagerness to learn. The children are also learning English very well, and seem happy to translate for their parents. We hope that in May we can continue making progress and forge more meaningful memories with the family!

March 2018 Update
Our first full month with working with the family has been a tremendous learning experience for all parties involved. We were able to follow through with our idea to introduce the family to the Charm City Circulator, and, by way of that resource, to the Inner Harbor, a Halal market, and the Esperanza Center. The Esperanza Center is a useful resource for the mother, who can take ESOL classes there. One member of our group has been meeting weekly with the mother to support her English studies. This month, she has learned all of the letters of the alphabet and the days of the week. We feel she would benefit from more frequent lessons, but are pleased with the progress we have been able to make together so far.

We also have identified a need to better support the older children of the family as they progress through American schooling. Spending time with this family has opened our eyes to the challenges of being an English Language Learner in our city’s public schools. The children, upon arrival, have been placed into standard curriculum classes. Challenging even for native English speakers, the children are having a difficult time learning content because they are also trying to learn English at the same time. We hope to determine a way to better support them.

Other challenges that have come up during our time together have been maneuvering through medical billing and obtaining the required documentation to apply for a library card, two seemingly mundane activities that prove to be more complicated when arriving to a new country. We are grateful to have been able to support the family through these processes. As we accompany them, we are gaining a valuable inside look into the reality of adjusting as refugees. We are excited to see what new lessons April brings.