Durham, N.C. — Refugees who’ve come to America to rebuild their lives already face unique challenges, but during a pandemic this adjustment can be extremely stressful.
A Durham nonprofit has shifted its focus, virtually, to serve children in need.
Bilingual assistants and mentors with World Relief Durham Youth Services were once able to work in-person at Durham schools alongside refugee and immigrant students.
World Relief Durham is funded by the Durham Public Schools ESL department to contract a team of bilingual assistants who provide multilingual instruction for the organization’s youth services programs.
Now, this pandemic has created an even greater barrier for these families to overcome.
With the onset of COVID-19, the refugee resettlement agency pivoted its main purpose to serving its younger members, online.
“It felt like at the beginning of the pandemic we just had to drop everything that was considered life dignifying,” said Rob Callus, Program Manager of Refugee and Immigrant Youth Services.
Getting information to these often disconnected families facing language barriers became their top priority.
“Our clients are often the last to know anything that happens. As an example, a week before online classes were starting, I had a family call me and say when is the school bus coming,” added Callus.
To help bridge the gap, they’ve adopted mass texting technology to help translate important school updates and Zoom tutoring services for about 40 students.
“We lost that connection, physical connection with the children and we had established a relationship with them in such a way that we were like family,” said Elizabeth Ngaari, a Bilingual Assistant.
Despite the hardships, Elizabeth Ngaari, said the new virtual programs have allowed her to reach a larger and more diverse group of students.
“Personally, I used to work with the ones from Africa, Tanzania, from Congo.. but with the pandemic, I have the opportunity to meet children from Afghanistan, Syria,” she added.
This new normal for those adapting to a new life in America, isn’t ideal. However, the support is making a huge difference.
“World Relief is rolling out something that keeps them going and makes them feel like someone still cares out there,” said Ngaari.
“We’re just happy to be in that space and meet the needs of everyone on both sides,” added Callus.
In addition to weekly zoom mentoring and reading services, they plan to also hold virtual wellness workshops that will help families with the physical and emotional challenges of this stressful time.