Local Volunteer Helps Refugees Become Active Members of Their New Community
Every week, Debbie Taylor (pictured right) and her husband, Kevin, drive to downtown Albany to volunteer at the home of a newly arrived Karenni refugee family from Burma. But a recent visit did not consist of the usual reading session with the little ones, helping the school-age children with their homework, or teaching the parents about money and the banking system.
Instead, upon entering the family’s second-floor apartment on Grand Street, the Taylors were surprised to find a group of Burmese refugees, each carefully holding official-looking letters.
It did not take the two volunteers for the Albany Field Office of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) long to recognize the forms in their hands: the 2010 U.S. Census. All too familiar to most Americans, the quick and easy census forms are anything but for the mostly non-English-speaking Burmese refugees. So the volunteer couple popped a squat on the floor and spent the next hour helping the refugees check the right boxes and correctly fill in blanks.
“We try to encourage all refugees to be involved in the census. They need to be counted,” said Debbie Taylor. “The Karenni group needs to be recognized as well.”
Last year, USCRI Albany helped resettle about 100 refugees from Burma, many of whom are members of the Karenni ethnic group. An additional 100 Burmese refugees will resettle in the area this year.
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Looking to do something exciting in 2010? Consider volunteering with refugees.
Here is what some of our current volunteers say about their experience.
"I was matched with a refugee family from Senegal. Upon their arrival, no one in their family spoke English -- nor did I speak either French or Pulaar, their native languages. Therefore, most of our interactions were based on a unique, universal, type of non-verbal communication: exaggerated hand movements, photographs, food, and modeling certain actions. It made me realize that regardless of language or culture, we are all simply human beings who want to share and listen to each other's stories."
—Rachel Hye Youn Rupright
"The refugees are just inspiring -- they're so dedicated to learning, and I'm always challenged. They've had to give up everything in order to get here, and they bring a high level of inspiration because of that.
Over the last few months we have worked with the children in two families who are now able to read. This past weekend my family took 7 Burmese children to the movies for the first time. It is an absolutely wonderful feeling to introduce them to new experiences."
Our next orientation for volunteers will be Tuesday, May 18, 2010. We are always looking for new Refugee Mentors, English teachers, and other volunteers to help refugees adjust to their new life in the Capital Region.
Learn more about becoming a volunteer today.