patience & perspective

Like usual, today was another long day. This time it was different because I almost hit a breaking point. I was close to tears in the middle of the day because everything was going wrong. I didn’t accomplish my first task on the calendar due to individuals’ resistance towards my goal. These individuals put up a brick wall and wouldn’t let me pass no matter what I said or did. It was the most frustrating experience I have had so far at my job. But it illuminated the importance of patience a person must have in order to be an effective communicator. (I really need to work on my patience a bit more.) I also was confronted with a situation I had never dealt with before. Luckily I had someone by my side to guide and support me through it. Looking back I realize how the situation gave me a knew perspective on my life in America. (Everyday my perspective broadens as I learn knew things…but this caused me to reflect a bit deeper.) The individuals I work with are so strong. They have faced many obstacles before coming to America and some of the obstacles don’t disappear when they arrive here. I wish I could wave my magic wand to fix it all but I don’t have that kind of power. Instead, I have the blessing to be in solidarity with these people; to listen to their stories; meet their loved ones; share in their culture. I might often be exhausted from this work. I will probably always say, today was another long day. But what an enriching job I am privileged to have. It adds fuel to my fire that burns for justice. It humbles me beyond belief. It opens my eyes to broken systems within our society. It has transformed me into a more socially aware individual advocating for refugees. This job is where I am meant to be at this time in my life and I am so thankful for it…regardless of the challenges it presents me with each day. 

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two weeks down.

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I have completed two work weeks at Catholic Charities Atlanta! Wow, where is this time going? Seems like yesterday I was flying back to the USA from Hong Kong. Now I am all settled into my new home in Atlanta. I have quickly fallen in love with this southern city and my job!

These past weeks I have spent hours cramming information into my head. So let me attempt to put into words some of the things I did and learned…

August 20th: I accompanied Pasupati (A Refugee Resettlement Specialist, like myself, who has worked for Catholic Charities since 2008. He was a refugee from Bhutan that went through Catholic Charities to be resettled here in Atlanta! He is one of many wonderful co-workers that I am blessed to learn from.) to a 24 hour home visit. We drove to Clarkston, GA. It is an area largely populated by refugees. The family we visited was from Bhutan and they spoke Nepalese. Pasupati speaks many languages including Nepalese so we did not need a translator. During the 24 hour home visit we assessed their needs. We also discussed their rights and responsibilities as refugees while working with us(Catholic Charities).

Usually before the refugees arrive in the US we set up their apartment with donated furniture and other home goods. But this family from Bhutan was not able to move into their apartment on time because of some issues. On the 19th we visited the apartment to inspect it and get it ready. Well I have never seen more cockroaches, spiders, and dirt in an apartment before… It was unacceptable. We talked to the head of maintenance and the leasing office to resolve the issue as soon as possible. However, they weren’t able to clean it and de-bug it before the family arrived on the 20th! I couldn’t believe that it wouldn’t be ready in time for the family to move in. The standards of this apartment complex are terrible. I later discussed the situation with my manager who gave me some insight into what happened. She said the apartment complex is very popular among refugee resettlement agencies because it is cheap and many US ties(friends and family members of new refugees) want to live in community with other refugees. The facilities do not need to be nicely up-kept because of the high demand. Also, many refugees do not fully understand that they deserve better housing. Many of them come from living in poor conditions and refugee camps. Some may not even know what it is like to own a refrigerator or a bed. So the apartment complex can continue to poorly manage their facilities because they have a locked in source of income through the refugee population. What a vicious circle of inequality and social injustice.

Later that evening I went to dinner at my Georgia relative’s house. Bill Oliver is one of my Grandma Rogers brothers. He lives in Atlanta along with his wife and some of his children and grandchildren. One of his sons had a dinner party that I was invited to! It was a lovely evening to connect with extended family. Many of them I have never met before or if I have it was when I was very little. I met Alice, who is my second cousin’s wife’s sister-in-law(did you get that?). She owns two horses and invited me to her home to ride them! Now if you know me well you realize that this is a big deal to me! I can go ride horses any weekend I want! I am beyond excited to get back to my farm roots and help Alice take care of her beautiful animals.

August 21: We attempted to move in the Bhutanese family again. There were still bugs. So it was pushed back to a later day. The family had to continue staying with their US tie, which is not ideal.

Then I went to our storage units with co-workers to rearrange some things. (I drove one of the company vans!!! I was so proud of myself.) Catholic Charities has donated items in storage to furnish the apartments for refugees.

Diana(the Jesuit Volunteer I am working with) and I were trained on how to create good case notes. Each refugee case must have detailed records of the services we provide. Case notes are essential to that process. After this year I will know how to do many things that a social worker does.

For dinner my community and I hate a fabulous homemade chicken pot pie created by Quincy!

August 22: In the morning I had an encouraging meeting with my manager Talia. I came prepared with many items to discuss. She is such a wonderful person to work for. She is what I look for in a boss/manager/mentor. I can always count on her for words of affirmation and structure. I told her about my hope to continue to work for a non-profit after this year. I said if all works out well I would love to stay within Catholic Charities in some capacity. She was so excited and told me she can see the passion I have for this type of work which inspires her. Talia gave me great career advice and also offered her assistance to me in the future. I definitely plan to take advantage of her offer to review my resume and cover letter down the road!

I then went to a 60 day house visit with Lizzie(another Refugee Resettlement Specialist who used to be a Jesuit Volunteer at Catholic Charities). We went to see one of her cases, which was an Eritrean woman.

Later I spent time reviewing case files for the audit coming up… Fun fun!

At the end of the day I sat in on a Cultural Orientation for a Russian family. This was the first Russian family Catholic Charities Atlanta has had in a few years so it was exciting!

August 25: We finally moved in the Bhutanese family!!! I was so happy for them!!! It was a hot afternoon in Atlanta but we successfully set up all their furniture that was donated to Catholic Charities. I showed the mother what a bedskirt was and how to properly make their new American beds. They were so grateful to have the basic items we provided them. It reminded me again just how fortunate I am in this life.

August 26: As soon as I arrived to work at 8am I accompanied Lizzie on a visit to one of her cases. The family was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo but were refugees from a camp in Rwanda. The father was dressed in nice slacks and a dress shirt and jacket. He was concerned about getting an iron for his clothes so he could look presentable for future job interviews. I was impressed by how much he valued his outward appearance and understood its correlation to “success” in America.

After that meeting Diana and I drove over the the storage units to browse and pack a box for one of Pasupati’s cases. They were in need of some extra bowls and plates.

Once we finished lunch Diana, Ashley(my housemate and other Dominican Volunteer) and I drove over the the Catholic Charities office in Chamblee. We met other volunteers and interns working for Catholic Charities in other locations in Atlanta. We received an orientation and brief history of Catholic Charities Atlanta.

That evening was my first airport pickup and it was for my first case! My boss Talia assigned me this case because the US tie was one of her first cases. So she thought it would be easy to work with this family because they have a US tie that understands the process. I couldn’t be more happy about my family.

We met the US tie, which is the daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren, at our office. We then drove two separate vehicles to the airport to welcome my first case(an Iraqi man and his wife). While we waited for their arrival in the airport I spoke with the US tie who told me she hadn’t seen her father in three years. She said her father and mother last saw her little girl when she was one year old and that they hadn’t met her four month old baby boy. So I knew it was going to be an extremely emotional reunion. And I was not wrong! It was a moving moment to witness. I had tears well up in my eyes because everyone was crying and embracing their loved ones. The daughter ran up to her mother with her little girl and the grandma and grandpa(my case) just broke down in tears. When they finally saw their four month old grandson they cried harder and could not stop holding his face in their hands. I do not know Arabic or Kurdish but I could just imagine the grandma saying in Kurdish, “my grandson is so precious and beautiful”.

If I get the privilege of reuniting families like that every now and then I would say I am in the right career path. It is the most fulfilling feeling to provide individuals the resources to start their lives over in my country. America truly is a melting pot and I am beyond blessed to live here.

August 27: I drove to my Iraqi family’s apartment to complete the 24 hour check. I had an Arabic interpreter with me even though the grandfather knows English very well! Upon arrival I was warmly greeted by the daughter and her parents. Her husband was at work and her four year old daughter was at school. I asked everyone how they felt and smiles spread across their faces. The grandfather told me how happy he and his wife were to be in America with their family. He also told me that he had worked with the American military in Iraq to bring peace to his country. He explained that Kurdish Iraqis appreciate help from America and wish to rid their country of terrorists. I have never had a conversation with someone from Iraq and I don’t think I will ever forget it. He shared stories with me in such a trusting way. I was blown away by him. I can’t wait to continue working with him and his wife.

August 28: Diana and I were trained on documentation in the Catholic Charities database. I also received my official work cellphone!

August 29: In the morning I drove to my Iraqi family’s apartment again. This time we went over their budget that I created for them and I further assessed their needs. Soon I will help them apply for social security cards, Georgia ID’s, food stamps, and Medicaid. Then I will process them for Match Grant which helps them get employed as soon as possible in America. The goal is for our refugees to be self sufficient by the time we finish working with them.

In the afternoon, my coworkers and I went to Pasupati’s citizenship ceremony! 160 people from 63 countries became citizens of the United States alongside Pasupati. They called out each country and the individuals proudly stood up. They took their vows and were handed their US citizen certificate. I basically cried through the whole ceremony. They played God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood and I proudly sang it along with many others. It was a special event to attend. I can’t imagine being forced to leave my homeland behind and start over in a foreign country. Learning a new language, working a low income job, living with used/donated furniture, and building a life for myself from scratch… What immense strength many of these refugees possess.