As the pandemic progresses, new refugee families continue to arrive under emergency status to Utah but with fewer resources than arrivals would normally find, especially due to a lack of technology access. Though a far cry from the normal flow of newly arriving refugee families, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City is just as busy supporting resettled and resettling families as they navigate the coronavirus pandemic while simultaneously striving to positively integrate. As refugees’ access to technology becomes, increasingly, a basic need, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah (Regence) came forward with a generous donation to support the purchase of laptops and cover the expenses of internet for more than 25 families served by the IRC in Salt Lake City.
Macee Rea, digital inclusion coordinator at the IRC in Salt Lake City, explained the multitude of barriers that refugee families face in regards to technological access. For families who lost their jobs or saw a dramatic decrease in hours due the pandemic or are otherwise at risk due to financial hardship, having the resources to procure laptops and an internet connection on their own may not be an option. For larger families, especially those with multiple school-aged children who need online access for education, it may not be feasible for them all to share one laptop. Macee finds that this donation reflects “how evident need is for connectivity.” To her, these funds are unique because they did not have to request them. Rather, it was Regence’s idea to place the donation.
“Moving to remote spaces makes folks realize how important digital inclusion is,” Macee commented. Computers become an increasingly important area for us to connect, to maintain jobs and find resources for education, especially during a pandemic. “The whole point is you have that agency,” Macee said. “Having tech is a part of [living here], not a luxury.” Additionally, technology access means increased access to accurate, updated, and language-accessible information about the coronavirus pandemic, increasing the likelihood refugee families will better prevent the spread of the disease in their community.
With the donation from Regence, Macee and other staff members will be able to find the best way to provide quality laptops to as many families as possible. This will allow her to instruct refugees on how to better utilize the digital world to meet their unique needs. Mainly, the IRC’s education team has been teaching refugees in Utah how to set up emails and other basic activities by demonstrating over online presentations.
“Sometimes engagement is higher,” Macee said. There are benefits to online learning and engagement, especially to diverse and low-income households, for instance, child care and transportation no longer become concerns during class time. Children are less likely to be distracting for parents as well since they are not in a new environment. Speaking from their homes, a comfort zone, even empowers participants to speak up and participate more, where an in-person class may have been intimidating previously. Over video calls, interpreters try to facilitate as much conversation as possible.
It can be a challenging paradox trying to educate any non-English speaker who hasn’t used a computer before on technology by means of technology. Macee laughed, explaining: “It’s a multi-step process.” This process usually involves several phone calls over which they explain how to set up the video call. For some, continued digital training remains crucial for navigating life in the U.S. “Even after [the pandemic], remote learning is going to be a part of society,” Macee pointed out.
The work of the IRC in Salt Lake City always reflects the generous support received from the community. Every donation of support provides hope to hundreds of refugees and matters now more than ever. The generous donation from Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah will have a resounding impact on the refugees in the community. Our thanks go to the thoughtful and powerful aid from Regence and all the work they provide to communities.
You can help us increase the support from Regence by making a gift of support today at Rescue.org/GiveSLC.