Refugee children get special attention and aid from CSS
Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series of articles showcasing how the faithful of the Diocese of Charlotte welcome and support refugees through Catholic Social Services' Refugee Resettlement Office, which has helped nearly 11,000 refugees from 27 different nationalities since 1975.
CHARLOTTE — "Refugee children face real challenges during resettlement," observes Sandy Buck, Catholic Social Services' volunteer coordinator for the Charlotte area.
Refugee children come to Charlotte from situations of terrible crisis, where many have lived in refugee resettlement camps most if not all of their young lives. They flee parts of the world where political unrest and even ethnic violence are prevalent, and they face immediate cultural and language challenges upon their arrival here. For many of them, this is the first real safe place they live, where they can relax and have the childhood that many Americans take for granted.
Susan Jassan, who is facilitator of the School Impact Program at the CSS Refugee Resettlement Office (RRO), sees their challenges first hand, particularly when the children are enrolled in school.
"The struggle to acquire basic English skills impacts everything including homework completion and their ability to navigate the American school system," Jassan says. "In addition, both parents and children must adjust to American educational norms and expectations, which can be particularly challenging."
As a response to the needs of these refugee children and to encourage their success at school, the RRO offers summer programming to help them catch up on learning, work on their reading and study skills, and help them with their English speaking and writing ability.
"We target those kids who have been here less than three years and who are not eligible for summer school," explains Jassan. "We offer a Summer Cultural Orientation Program, a Newcomers English as a Second Language (ESL) Class, and a traditional summer camp. Kids attending our summer programming this year were from Bhutan, Iraq, Sudan, Nepal, Burma and Vietnam."
Ten children and their parents recently attended the RRO's Summer Cultural Orientation Program. Designed to provide newly-arrived families with information about the American school system, participants gathered once a week. The program provided information about American laws, safety, school rules, social skills, money management, emotional health and family responsibilities.
Targeting youth who arrived between January and June of this year, a recent RRO Newcomers ESL Class was designed to strengthen the basic English skills of participants by reviewing grammar, the alphabet, numbers, colors, foods, classroom objects and more. Eleven children attended this seven-week class.
Fourteen children attended the RRO Summer Camp, which met four days a week for four hours each day. The aim of this camp was simply to let the children have a little fun. Attendees enjoyed science activities, field trips, outdoor and indoor games, and arts and crafts – experiences they may have never had before in the various refugee camps where they grew up.
"We had several great field trips," says Jassan. "The children visited the UNC Botanical Gardens, Ray's Splash Planet, and the Asheboro Zoo."
Buck adds, "We also had great volunteers, and that makes programming like this possible. Ten individuals volunteered at these programs as well as a family who plugged in with activities as needed, and two youth groups."
"The one family that volunteered," says Jassan, "taught our refugee kids magic tricks. The kids were giddy trying them out. And days later they were still coming up to me to show off the magic tricks they'd learned. It was great."
Sarah Suttoni, a junior at Charlotte Catholic High School, was one of the dedicated volunteers who worked at the RRO Summer Camp this year.
"I had never worked with refugees before, but I was interested in working with the children and I enjoyed playing soccer and board games with them and making bracelets. I also helped some of the kids with their English writing and reading skills," Suttoni says.
"I learned something, too," she adds. "One afternoon, someone donated some fresh fruits and vegetables for the kids and their families. I passed out the fruits and vegetables at the end of the day, and I will never forget how happy and excited the kids were. I don't think that I've ever had a smile from ear to ear over a tomato like they did, and it really made me realize how many things I take for granted in my life. I'm going to continue volunteering with the RRO."
"We're thrilled to have Sarah as a youth ambassador," says Buck. "She'll work to encourage other students at Charlotte Catholic to become more aware of the needs of refugees and, hopefully, to volunteer. We are always in need of volunteers in our ongoing afterschool programming."
—Tracy Winsor, special to the Catholic News Herald
Pictured are two recent refugees from Bhutan being assisted by the Refugee Resettlement Office, during a trip last summer to the zoo. Kewal (left) is 9, and Rajesh (right) is 8. (Photo provided by Sandy Buck)
FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy