Help refugee women adjust to life in America

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Refugee Women Overcome Barriers Together

posted Oct 23, 2013 by Alyssa Tartaglione

Progress

Using the principles of the promotora/community health worker (CHW) model, Well-Being Promoters (Promoters) use their first hand knowledge of their experience as successfully resettled refugees to work with newly arrived refugee women from their own culture to provide education during the first year of resettlement.

As role models and mentors Promoters are paired with refugee women as they arrive in Tucson and are detached from the US services continuum. Promoters visit the women 20 times in their homes to provide knowledge, skills and support on topics including women’s and children’s health, the US health care and education systems, parenting support, mental health, personal and public safety, financial literacy, self-advocacy, women’s rights and domestic violence, and community resources. Refugee women require this knowledge and these skills to become empowered and to make informed choices for themselves and their children that will lead to improved well-being and self-sufficiency.

Over the past 90 days Well-Being Promotion has taken strides to reach its one year Catapult activities goals:

  • 6 of the 12 Well-Being Promoters (peer mentors) are trained and conducting home visits
  • 51 of the 150 women and their families received educational home visits from their Well-Being Promoter
  • 258 hours of the 500 hours of home visits have been conducted

Risks and challenges

Refugee woman face seemingly insurmountable obstacles when first arriving in the US and adjusting to American values. Most arrive after living for years or decades in refugee camps where they have experienced hunger, disease and had little or no access to formal education. Many are single mothers, alone in bearing the responsibility of fulfilling their family’s basic needs.

In addition to the obvious cultural and language barriers that make it difficult to adjust to a new life in America and find and maintain employment, woman also lack financial literacy skills and struggle with basic concepts such as counting and saving money to pay rent. Gender inequities in their own culture have left them less educated and less confident than their male counterparts, making them less equipped than refugee men when adjusting to American society. In comparison to their male counterparts, refugee women:

  • Are less vocal in co-ed situations
  • Have very limited English proficiency
  • Do not work outside the home and lack specialized employment skills
  • Have fewer role models
  • Adhere to (either by personal choice or family restriction) taboos regarding clothing styles, contact with the opposite sex (eye contact, shaking hands) and/or food restrictions (touching food that is not ‘halal’ or vegetarian), making it difficult to secure and maintain entry-level employment.

Get personal

Chandra Sangrula, 34, resettled in Tucson with the aid of the IRC in 2009. She had spent the previous 18 years living in a refugee camp in Nepal after being expelled from her native country of Bhutan for being a member of a persecuted minority group.

“I felt lost when I first came to America,” she says. “I didn’t know my way around and learning the language was a big problem.”

Sangrula had been a teacher in the refugee camp and the IRC was quick to enlist her to work for its Well-Being Promotion Program. As a well-being promoter, she personally visits every newly arrived Bhutanese refugee woman when they arrive in Tucson. “I inform them about everything that is new to them,” Sangrula says. “If someone is sad or if they need to talk about their problems or a traumatic experience, I can refer them to an IRC counselor or to other help.”

Next steps

The goal of training 12 Promoters may be greater than the need, 8 Promoters will probably be sufficient to reach 150 women if not more. In the next two months IRC will train 2 additional promoters and continue providing services over the next 9 months to reach at least 100 more newly arrived refugee women. Curriculum modules will be created or further defined for the following topics to address service gaps: healthy grocery shopping and well-child nutrition.

Budget

We are on track to complete the planned project within the budget we proposed. Current spending for the first quarter is as follows:

Line Items Projected Budget Amount spent so far
Training & management of 12 peer mentors $2000 $1000
500 hours of in-home education $7000 $3500
Administration $1000 $200
  • Economic security
  • Education & training
  • Maternal health

This woman-to-woman mentoring program empowers refugees to be healthy, self-reliant, financially stable, thriving members of society.

Why we care: Refugee women face seemingly insurmountable obstacles when first arriving in the United States—adjusting to a new country, culture and language.

How we're solving this: Peer mentors provide critical information to refugees on healthy behavior, personal finances, and how to most effectively advocate on their own behalf.

Woman-to-woman mentoring provides refugees with the support and guidance they need to become thriving members of their new communities. The IRC will train 12 refugee women who have successfully built new lives in Tucson, Arizona, to become leaders and mentors to 150 newly-arrived refugee women.

Refugee women arrive in the United States after years in refugee camps with little or no formal education, and very few resources. They are faced with enormous obstacles, such as learning a new language and culture, and navigating complicated education and health systems while providing for their families. Too often, refugee women lack the skills and support they need to thrive, but their peers—other refugee women who have succeeded in America—can help.

Across the course of one year, mentors will provide in-home education in the following:

  • Women and children’s health
  • Public safety
  • Financial literacy and household budget management
  • Healthy shopping with smart savings
  • Systems navigation
  • Self advocacy

Tucson’s refugee population represents more than 55 countries—such as Bhutan, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan—and 22 spoken languages. Peer mentors are from the same culture, have similar experiences and speak the same language, becoming friends, trusted sources of support and inspiring role models to new refugees to allow them to succeed and thrive.

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