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.

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