Volunteer Mentors Help Ethiopian Families Settle in Seattle
The Tadesse family had fled political upheaval in Ethiopia and then religious discrimination in Yemen before arriving in Seattle last November. The father, Ato, was admitted to a hospital soon after landing, where he remained for the next month recovering from illnesses he contracted during his ordeal. His wife, Abeba, too new to the United States to find the hospital on her own, was consumed with worry. She barely had the energy to help her two young daughters, seven-year-old Birke and six-year-old Shewaye, explore their new home.
Help wasn’t far away. The Tadesses were quickly matched with their volunteer mentor, Paige Kayihan, whose experiences living overseas and interest in refugee issues motivated her to work with the IRC in her free time.
Paige met the Tadesses not long after their arrival and immediately started working to ease their transition. She finds it’s the small steps that make the biggest difference. After a few practice runs together, she taught Abeba how to use the Seattle bus system alone. Abeba could now visit her husband in the hospital. “She was very relieved not to depend on her new neighbors for rides,” says Paige.
While Abeba visited Ato, the children spent their days at a neighbor’s apartment. To break the monotony, Paige took the kids on a trip to the Seattle Aquarium with tickets donated to the IRC. Birke and Shewaye were overjoyed.
“Activities that get the children’s minds off the uncertainty of their new lives help a lot,” says Paige. “They see their parents stressed out, so engaging them in fun activities is uplifting.”
Learning English as a Family
Annika Rudback decided to volunteer at the IRC after a family member recommended the organization. She mentors the Teshome family, who are also Ethiopian. The father, Tamre, speaks conversational English and was able to secure a good job quickly. While this is important for his family, it means that he is no longer available to help his wife, Shikuria, watch their two daughters during the day.
“Once her husband got a job, it was hard for Shikuria to make it to English class,” says Annika. “She was expected to stay home with the kids in the evening.”
Understanding how important English skills are to success in the United States, Annika introduced Shikuria to IRC’s family literacy classes, held in conjunction with the Tukwila Community Schools Collaborative, where children are welcome to accompany their parents. Through these classes, Shikuria has been able to resume her English studies, and Annika reports that her skills have improved already. Annika also introduced Shikuria and her daughters to the public library, where she helped them get cards and learn how the system works.
With the help of IRC mentors Paige and Annika, the Tadesse and Teshome families were able to meet the challenges they faced. “Living abroad gave me a new perspective on how hard it is to adjust to another culture and language,” says Paige. “I got involved with mentoring because I wanted to make that process easier for refugees in Seattle.”
*Refugees' names have been changed to protect privacy.
Learn how you can volunteer to assist refugees at the IRC resettlement office nearest you.