“I really love working with them. I love my job. You know when you’re doing something you really love, it doesn’t feel like a job. It just feels like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
Meet Agnes, one of our marvelous community workers! Uniquely fitted for this role, Agnes is a support system for families on a daily basis. For the REC, she acts as an interpreter, connector, and engager who fosters and facilitates a successful relationship between refugee families and education.
She also serves an important role at our Hands Connected Early Learning Center, working to enroll refugee children under the age of three into an early education program that sets the stage for hope and success. It’s a great fit, because it is also where her son attends.
When Agnes first meets a family, she says that they “…feel very excited. I welcome them with a smile and I show them that I am their sister.” For the families she visits on a day-to-day basis, Agnes is a piece of home, and a source of light to the path refugees must navigate upon their arrival into the U.S.
She is more than just an interpreter to help families with education enrollment, she makes sure the families feel engaged in the conversation and the process, which is important to creating a sense of community.
“When they feel like they have enough support, things go well and it starts to become much easier, especially for those families who don’t speak English.”
As an individual who has walked in the shoes of these children, Agnes knows what is necessary for our refugee neighbors to be successful and supported. She has faced many of the same barriers that they must now overcome.
So, what are some of these barriers refugees face?
When Agnes arrived with her parents to the United States 10 years ago, she did not speak an ounce of English past “how are you,” which she says is just what you’re taught to say. Agnes says communication is a primary concern because not being able to speak the same language makes it considerably more difficult to succeed, and it becomes the most challenging, prolonged barrier to overcome.
But because Agnes is fluent in 4 different languages (Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, and now English), not only is she able to interpret for a large population that we serve, but she can also provide comfort for families by being able to engage them. She dissolves the disconnect and builds a bridge by taking them to the schools their children are going to be attending, enrolling them, allowing them to tour and meet the principle, and setting up bus transportation. She specializes in school-related concerns over the long term, making sure they are in the proper courses, and ensuring that parents understand and attend parent-teacher conferences.
Education Across Cultures.
With that, Agnes also says it is important to understand that education systems across countries and cultures can be vastly different. Hearing that your child who was in 5th grade in their home country is going to be in 7th grade in America can be confusing or difficult to hear, so it is important to be empathetic and provide support. This speaks to part of the REC’s mission to bridge the gap as we work to not only welcome but further seek to understand each other in order to grow as a community.
“At that moment, when a family is feeling very discouraged, I step out of my boundaries. I give them details and examples of my life. Like, hey I had to face this too, and now look at me.”
For most of these students, extra time and support become vital factors of success. So, Agnes points families towards the after-school tutoring program offered at the REC, describing it as a powerful tool in helping further develop the language and academic skills that are crucial to keeping on track. Agnes says this extra support would have been instrumental for her success when she came over here as a refugee student.
“When I arrived here, I didn’t have all of this support that I give from the REC, that I see all these kids getting from us. When I started working with the REC, I could see a big change. Refugees are getting more support than they used to.. so this is very supportive — to have someone go in and enroll you in school and then you’re able to come here and do your after-school homework.”
Students come to the after-school program to receive help on their homework that they may not otherwise receive. Volunteers take the time to transport students and work with them 1:1, as well as provide tutoring that is tailored to their abilities in reading, writing, and math.
Agnes believes there is something special about working within this community. Providing support through the REC creates change and promotes growth.
“I have always been a people person. I was born this way. I love people and I love help. Helping this community means a lot to me.”