Language, Trust and Culture are Three Weapons Empowering People: Lessons from Refugees
When thinking about this topic, I tied to found as more as “victim” groups possible. International refugees are among these. They were suffering different threaten and violence. Women were more likely to be raped, forced into marriage or targeted by domestic violence. Most of them fled their homes in search of safety and a new start. I had a great conversation with Amy about international refugees.
Amy, a dedicated community leader, worked in a large humanitarian organization that works with refugee resettlement across the United States, including in New York City, conducting school readiness and homework help programs.
The age of these young refugees varied from about 4 to 21. They were resettled by the organization and most of them were living in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens.
Since she worked on the education program, most of our talks were focusing on the education area.
The difficulties they are facing:
These young refugees were facing social economics problems, the difficulties in school, not knowing English, difficulties in acquiring part-time job, applying to universities.
There doesn’t exit a fantastic job that really tries to help them get a hand in their new life. Settlement is a really complex long process and it’s really difficult to be living in the refugee camps for months and often years and suddenly find yourself in this huge city. And often many refugees come to the US not knowing English or having consistent formal education. So it can be a really tough experience. But a lot of kids are putting into the international schools where they have opportunities to learn English and be around their peers. And every child have a case worker who directly works with the refugee family on everything from personal to legal issues
The biggest difficulties in education:
First of all is language and second is adjustment to certain western norms of behavior in official public school institutions. Especially during the academy, the students would have difficulties with such concepts as timeliness, homework, respect for teacher’s authority.
Still exiting the race discrimination to African children at school, which was quite shocking and it may be difficult for kids from other counties to make friends with American peers because they didn’t have the same culture that they wouldn’t find a same topic to talk about. But refugee youth as exemplars of resilience and amazing adaptable skills, and often have a clearer and broader understanding of the world than many adults do. So when they feel comfortable enough to and willing to open up, they make wonderful friends. This is just the issue about trusting someone about their friendship.
Difference of young refugees and other international students:
Again language and trust issues. It’s really interesting because most of the refugees’ kinds have lived in multiple countries, for example, they were born in one country and lived there for 5 to 6 years, then moved to another country living for 4 to 5 years, then settled here. They know different culture of multiple countries.
Refugees’ living situation:
They’re usually given the certain allowance to start with and are given housing with an allowance, but after a certain period, they have to find work. The parents are helped by other members to find employment. The helps also include writing resumes, teaching different skills like computer skills, language literature. So basically, once the families are settled, the main task is to get them self-sufficient.
Suggestions for improvement :
Having more leadership training for the kids especially for girls. Leadership workshops would be cool about leadership skills and activities.
Women need more equality. Any gender equality work is just such a large scale of operation that has to confront massive structural injustices that women face that have built over centuries of patriarchic man-dominated society. Any help towards women equality will be for us for a long time.
There’re surprisingly a lot of girls who are really outgoing, very strong-willed, but a lot of these girls have been in the United States for a while now, so it may because they get more used to American culture. Especially for the girls who came from different countries where different modes of behavior are expected from girls and women, when they grow up in the United States, they will feel freer to fight for their future.
From the conversation with Amy, I noticed three things she emphasized a lot: language, trust and culture. Without the knowledge of language, you can’t communicate with others asking or help when you have problems. Without building trust to others, you won’t know who can turn to when you encounter danger. Without understanding local culture, you even don’t know what behavior would put yourself in danger. All of these things are essential for building confidence. After having less feeling of uncertainty and fear, more sense of confidence and safety, you would create more chance of security for yourself. So “behavior like you are local/native” is a good strategy.
About leadership program for women and girls, I found a good one on IRC website: http://www.rescue.org/vision
This program called “
Vision Not Victim” helping the girls who face threaten and violence to create their own future.
For these girls,
“No one had ever asked them ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’”.
“This is the first time they know that they were allowed to dream of these things or biding these things that they never seen anybody do it and they never seen a woman do it is OK.”
These girls are not victims but transforming their life and communities. We would find more and more architects, journalists, photographers, doctors, writers, musicians, teachers from these girls who were supposed to have no dream. Transforming the perception of girl’s role is necessary for empowering girls and women.