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Mentors Making a Difference

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Rahila and Vivian speaking over Zoom as part of the IRC in Silver Spring's Family Mentor Program.

Photo: Vivian Huynh-Edwards/IRC

By Eva Schooler, Family Mentor Program Intern

“I thought that everything was going to be the same when I first arrived here,” Rahila recalled. When Rahila came to the United States with her family as refugees in 2019, she expected to see men in shalwar kameez and women in burqas, traditional clothing in her home country of Afghanistan. She was instead met by men and women in jeans and t-shirts. The culture shocks, although sometimes exciting, motivated Rahila to sign up for the Family Mentor Program with the International Rescue Committee.

The IRC’s Family Mentor Program pairs recently-resettled refugees with volunteer mentors who meet weekly for six months to help them learn English, navigate U.S. systems (i.e. healthcare, education etc.) and integrate into their new community. To aid Rahila’s transition to life in the U.S., the IRC matched her with a mentor, Vivian.

Due to the pandemic, Rahila and Vivian meet on Zoom to work through any issues she may have. Together they have conquered the ABCs, deciphered the U.S. address system and operated a smartphone. These feats may seem small, but they have made all the difference to Rahila. She used to have difficulty navigating her neighborhood and locating stores and doctors. Now, her newly found understanding of the address system has given her independence.

With the friendship and guidance of her mentor Vivian, Rahila plans to fulfill her dream of becoming a daycare worker. Rahila’s passion to work with children stems from her love of her own five children. In Afghanistan, her children were not able to attend school. The IRC has enrolled her children in school and Rahila is confident that she and her children will have a good future.

Rahila and Vivian illustrate the significant role volunteers play in helping refugees integrate into the U.S. To make an impact in your local community by mentoring refugees, sign up for the next Family Mentor Training or email our volunteer coordinator Kyle.Monsees [at] rescue.org.