BEYOND FACEBOOK Reality Refugees: The helpers and the helped
I often wonder now why I am a hermit for the most part. Whenever I’ve wandered out into this world off of Facebook I meet some amazing people. Amanda Cliff who has spearheaded help for Syrian refugees continues to amaze me. While I bumble along with my now beloved family, she has managed and cared for approximately 60 refugee families for a few years now. And she is humble with the work she does in a way that makes everyone who meets her, a better person for knowing her. She is so humble she will squirm for me having said that. So squirm. :) :) It is what I believe.
This night we had the very first meeting of the volunteers who are teaching these families and I met some more remarkably good people. Clearly the woman who arranged the meeting Susan Chabot is brilliant, helpful and a prodigious resource of ideas and philosophies and understanding. She too has a way of humbling us with her insight and she’s a godsend to us all. I might have driven her crazy with questions. I’m turning into one of those little old ladies that people cross the street to avoid because I talk too much. She had every answer and I’ve never been so relieved.
The old way of learning a language is no longer how it is approached. I found out what I’ve done wrong and what I’ve also done right. Some things are instinctual I think. Other things are going to be a concerted effort. I believe for the most part that the families will teach us how to teach them. They are likely being more patient with us than we are with them.
The other volunteers are lovely. I felt an immediate comfort in their shared experience. One thing that is already coming of these meetings with other volunteers is the reality of these newcomers’ lives. The real needs becoming clearer when shared experiences happen but the greatest difficulty is ensuring we do not define the problems from our own experiences in the western world and from our own culture. And very importantly we cannot define solutions to our perceptions at this point. We may see a need that they do not see as important and vice versa. It is a fine balancing act requiring a great deal of ruthless self-exploration of cultural norms. Do the women need to be more assertive? That is my need perhaps. It is not their need. Yet each family seems to be different in what expectations are. How do we teach the children and the parents all at various levels? We focus on the parents because the children will learn English simply by living here. Don’t overwhelm them. Celebrate the small victories. It is a matter of time and patience. When there is a quiet time, it’s likely because they are thinking. Give them time to think. There are no awkward pauses necessarily. Have a purpose to the class. Only speak when necessary or when modeling language. Use hand movements and visuals. When you speak use full sentences. Don’t use idioms. Get them talking. We talk 20% of the time. They must do the other 80%. (That's no small feat for someone like me I might add.) These are all things I’ve learned from our meeting and from the wonderful Susan Chabot. I feel stronger for the experience now and look forward to our next meeting.
My family is still expecting. She is over the 9-month period and is due for an ultrasound on Tuesday. They may have to induce. It’s amazing how being relatively new to English these complex ideas are explained. It’s really unfathomable. It’s the difference of being in person that does it I think. There isn’t a computer program in the world that can simulate hand gestures, facial expressions and little drawings and the odd word or two to create such a symbiotic understanding. It would be an interesting study.
We had quite a laugh together our family. The husband explained that he had received a phone call from the government about how his French language training was going. He has been absent for a while. He said to them “I register. I three month. I run.” It is funny because I said, “You know the verb to run!” His tortuous ordeal learning French is painful to hear about. Refugees in Quebec are given benefits up to two years with the stipulation that they learn French. After that they are expected to find work. Imagine the nightmare “that” presents if language training is not going well and you have 3 children, one on the way and a wife to support. Yet the husband is resolute in learning English. He is beginning at this point to correct me. I don’t have a handle on the number of different avenues he is accessing to learn the language. He is using the computer. I explained that there is a hard “g” and a soft “g” and he explained that it is a soft “g” if it is followed by “e.” I dunno I said. I don’t think so. I have to look that up. I was a bit disconcerted being corrected at this point. That also made me laugh.
The wife is getting that “oh lets get this over with” look to pregnancy. She grimaces slightly then smiles and laughs when the baby kicks. He doesn’t want to come out, she explains. We all chuckle communally examining her great girth. The children are rambunctious. They have the apartment door open and are racing up and down the stairwell. The father keeps a watch on them from the corner of his eye. They always serve me coffee. This time I received both coffee and tea at one point. It is always sweet and hot. She had baked some lovely muffins and a cake for my last visit. She loves to bake. I’m thinking of doing a recipe with her so she can learn measurements. There is so much to learn.
Outside the parking lot is no longer icy from a deluge of rain. On the way to the car I see how bright the stars are. I feel the immensity of it all, the universe and the odd circumstances of me being where I was at that very moment doing what I was doing. It is nothing and it is everything. A gaggle of teenagers pass me. They are on their cellphones. They do not see me. But I see them. I wish they would look up and see the stars. Just for an instant. The stars watch these teenagers’ destiny from their perches in the dark. I look over to the window where the family has settled in behind the dark curtain and I think of little Rohan who will soon be born.