Family Mentors Make Common Ground
When Ruby Bock decided to sign up to mentor a refugee family, she was looking for a change of pace from her life as a professional gardener. "Everything that I was doing, both in my work life and as a volunteer, was garden-related," she said. "I wanted to do something completely different."
Ruby now mentors a family from Eritrea, and she says the experience has been eye-opening. "By getting to know my refugee family" Sawa, the mother, and Denu, the father, and their four little girls, "I feel like I'm able to learn and begin to understand another culture."
IRC's Family Mentor program matches volunteers from the local community with a newly arrived refugee family, with a goal of helping to ease the transition as these Atlanta newcomers rebuild their new lives here in the United States.
Says Amber Mull, IRC Atlanta's Volunteer Coordinator, "Family mentors are able to help in ways they may never have realized," because of the cultural knowledge that a person still in their homeland naturally takes for granted. "There are a million little things, like showing someone how to use a toaster or other appliances in the home, reading the mail, or explaining how the U.S. school system works."
Ruby remembers her first important lessons with her family, who spoke no English when she started to visit them. "I had to arrange our next visit, so I brought a calendar and taught them the days of the week, pointing and saying 'Monday, Tuesday' etc." It worked, and slowly, over the course of her weekly visits with Sawa and the girls - Denu was generally away at work - Ruby and her new family developed an easy friendship.
"Sawa and I are both mothers, and we laugh at the silly things that her girls do with they are playing. We have fun together even though we can't always understand eachother's words."
Currently, there are approximately 40 refugee families waiting to be matched with mentors, says Amber, while 50 family mentors are actively working with a refugee family. Mentors generally visit their family once a week for two or three hours. In the beginning, most practice conversation in the home, but after a while, many like to show their families different places in the community.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a family mentor, contact Amber at Amber.Mull@theIRC.org or 404-292-7731 ext. 26. You can also come to the one of the next volunteer orientations, scheduled for April 10 and April 20.