Thursday, April 12, 2012

Laying Foundations

Anna Sibley has been an Americorps ACCESS Member at African Services Coalition since September of 2011. Providing case management and assisting in any other capacity she can, Anna has been an invaluable asset to the ASC family. Below she shares a brief story from the lives of one of the many families she was fortunate to work with:

Back in January, African Services got word that two young girls from the Ivory Coast in East Africa would be travelling to Greensboro to join their father. The older girl, Mamba, was 8 and her younger sister, Makouba, was 6. Their dad had been living in the U.S. for about five years with the girls’ older brother and sister.

I was assigned to their case to be sure the girls had a smooth transition to their new life in America. On the evening of Janurary 24, I was privileged to witness a joyful family reunion as Mamba and Makouba, beautifully attired in white dresses and denim jackets, were welcomed by their father and extended family. The girls were reserved but obviously very happy.

The following morning I arrived at their apartment and took the father, Mamba, and Makouba, for their social service appointments (getting them on food stamps, Medicaid, and applying them for social security cards). I was amused to find the girls in full “African” attire—meaning lightweight dresses dyed in vibrant colors—despite the cold temperatures. Fortunately, the dad had gone shopping in anticipation of the cold weather before their arrival and the girls wore jackets over their dresses and socks with their sandals. I realized that cool weather would be the first big adjustment for them. As I drove them to their appointment, neither spoke very much but stared wide-eyed out the window, taking in a new city and country.

In the Ivory Coast, the girls grew up speaking their mother language, Mandingo, and also French. While their father speaks English well, the girls did not know any upon their arrival. But through his translation, the father let me know that one of the first questions the older girl, Mamba, asked her father upon arrival was, “When can I go to school?”

I have found that both refugee children and adults are extremely eager to learn and take advantage of the educational opportunities in the U.S. Approximately two weeks after their arrival, both girls were enrolled in the same elementary school. Their older brother, a 5th grader at the same school, was able to show them how to ride the bus. Fortunately, the school also has a well-established ESOL program for the girls to begin learning English. Since they began school, I noticed that the girls have become more confident, content, and well-adjusted. They are still shy but obviously eager to continue to learn.

We were very fortunate as well in finding a married couple who began coming to the family’s apartment on Sunday afternoons to help Mamba and Makouba with reading and homework. The father typically works a second-shift job on weekdays and is often unable to help the girls with their homework during the week, leaving the task to uncles and other members of the extended family. The father was thrilled with these two volunteers, as extra homework help will be a boost to the girls’ learning.

Working with the father, Mamba, and Makouba has been a fantastic experience; the most rewarding element undoubtedly witnessing how happy these girls are with their dad in the United States. The foundation has been laid for them to have a bright and happy future in this country, and I am privileged to have played a small part in laying that foundation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Smallest Contributions

 Jordan McFadden has been a part of the ASC family since November of 2011. As a Political Science student at UNCG he offers his great knowledge of on-going events throughout the world and an avid interest in learning. He works closely with the Job Developer to strengthen relationships with employers and prepare refugees for the world of work in the United States. Check back for more from Jordan and others here at NC African Services Coalition.

The Smallest Contributions

I have worked as an intern at ASC for three months so far. A noteworthy instance in particular that has stuck with me began rather innocuously with a simple job development task.  My boss asked me to take three clients (and a photographer/journalist from UNC-Chapel Hill) to a nearby hotel to fill out applications and hopefully meet with the management for an interview.  This was a unique assignment due to the fact that we had no previous experience or placements with the hotel, and only one of the three clients had a good grasp of conversational English.

That day both the photographer and I sat along-side these clients, making sure that each client filled out the applications correctly and understood every step of the process completely. The manager was on duty and agreed to interview each client for a housekeeping position as they finished up their applications.  By the time each client went through their private interview, the manager explained that not only was he interested in bringing on each of the applicants, but also building a close relationship with our organization.

By the start of the week, the hotel has graciously interviewed additional clients, that are now making their way through the final stages of the employment process.  I couldn't possibly articulate the sense of humility I have gained through this experience. Even the smallest of contributions can bring those who are striving for gainful employment so much closer to self-sufficiency in the United States.