Strengthening Families. Building Communities. Reducing Poverty.

Empowering Refugee Clients to Navigate Around the Queen City

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         Imagine you are dropped off in an unknown city with $25.00 of pocket money and without an iPhone, car, friends/relatives or knowledge of the local language. This is the initial reality for thousands of refugee families that are resettled in America each year. Refugees, many of whom have lived in refugee camps for years, can feel isolated and stranded because they cannot communicate or get around their new city after their arrival in the United States. This can be a frustrating experience for them since they are eager to explore their new home, but lack the necessary skills to do so.

         At Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Office we offer an extensive bus-training program for our newly arrived refugees during the first month after their arrival. The training includes using the CATS calling b2ap3_thumbnail_Bus-Training-2.pngsystem to get directions, reading bus maps, understanding payment options, entering and exiting the bus safely, signaling the designated bus to stop and respecting other passengers. Once they have participated in the bus training they also receive two weeks of bus passes to get them started. We prioritize visiting the Department of Social Services, the Health Department on Billingsley and the CCDOC Office, because these are typically where clients need to go for immunizations, speaking with caseworkers and preparing for the job search.

Although bus-riding training can easily be overlooked, it plays a critical role in allowing clients to familiarize themselves with their neighborhood grocery stores and other local resources. When refugees become comfortable with public transportation, they are more self-sufficient, which is the goal and responsibility of resettlement agencies. In order to be self-sufficient refugees need to be employed. The ability to utilize the public transportation system greatly increases their opportunities for employment. Also, instead of depending on their caseworkers to drive them around the city to meet their daily needs and for follow-up appointments, clients are able to navigate the city themselves. This empowers our clients to have control over a few aspects of their challenging adjustment to living in the United States.

Bus riding training has been an exciting way for clients to have fun while seeing uptown Charlotte! One group of clients especially loved taking photos at the Transit Center to document their outing, as seen in the photo. As trainers, we catch ourselves cracking jokes about the inconvenience and long waits of the transportation system in Charlotte.   However, the clients bring up examples of waiting several hours for a bus in their home countries! It brings a new perspective to waiting 15 minutes in our city. Most recently, we were inspired by a client who gave up the seat she was sitting in for a disabled man, who was struggling to stand with the jerking motions of the bus. We had just explained to our group that seats at the front of the bus were for elderly or disabled riders. When we thanked her for remembering to be kind, she simply said it was part of her culture to respect and care for those who need help, even when they don’t ask. The refugee community has consistently shown that they are positive, resilient, and eager to work and willing to integrate into the American culture, while simultaneously holding onto and sharing their own with us.

Bus training in any new city is a practical tool. It empowered me during my first year in Charlotte. If anyone is interested in volunteering to help with bus trainings or mentoring refugee families in general, please email Sandy Buck at skbuck@charlottediocese.org. It only takes one simple training session for our clients to feel confident enough to traverse the city independently and successfully!

 

By Mary Hudson and Hassan Bienfait, AmeriCorps members

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Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte © 2014