The first weeks and months in the U.S. are usually very difficult for refugees, and I am honored to be part of a team that welcomes them and tries to make them comfortable in their new country.
Working at Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville, Tennessee, as the English Language Training Coordinator gives me a unique opportunity to tie together teaching with learning about refugee resettlement. The rewards of teaching and working with refugees are endless. I get to see the progress students make in English, like when someone writes and recognizes their name in English for the first time or learns how to call the doctor and make an appointment. I visit clients in their homes, meet their children and learn about their culture. I make connections and build relationships with people from all over the world.
Our clients have arrived to a place that is culturally very different than the countries they came from. Refugees have a small amount of money to live off of in their first months here, and with the pressures of learning English and finding a job, they can feel very overwhelmed. Working in resettlement allows me to be a small part of their lives in a positive way. Meeting clients and teaching them English gives me a chance to help them feel safer, happier and more comfortable in their new home.
I was in downtown Knoxville this July 4th for the celebrations happening there. It was a bit rainy and cool, and I didn’t really expect to see anyone I knew – especially not any of our refugee clients. I didn’t think they would want to be out in the rain and I knew that the fireworks display would go on long after the buses stopped running.
But, as I was walking through the grounds, I met with three different refugee families with faces painted, cotton candy in hand and having a great time.
One of my clients took me by the hand over to a friend of hers. She put her arm around me and said, “This is Margie. She is my teacher. And my friend.”
I was touched by that lovely introduction and proud that she saw me as more than just her teacher.
I am humbled by the big hearts of refugees and am very proud to call many of them my friends, as well. I feel so lucky to do this job every day.
Margie Nicoara works for Bridge Refugee Services, an affiliate of the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service.