It is important for volunteers to understand that refugees' needs will continue for years after they arrive, but are especially prevelant in their first year. In becoming aware of such needs, there is a temptation to try to meet all of them in a way that becomes unhealthy both for the refugee and the volunteer.
Addressing refugees' needs:
- refugees will oftentimes 'unload' their needs onto volunteers. Volunteers are not to panic.
- In this situation, volunteers should ask the refugee if they have communicated this need to the case specialist, and encourage them to do so. This will empower the refugee to take ownership of communicating their needs and issues to their case specialist, rather than relying on a volunteer to 'fix' a problem.
- During the first three to six months, case specialists are aware of refugees' various needs.
- For example: Refugees can easily confuse the various agencies (Health Department, Social Security Administration, DMV, etc.), and sometimes think that WRD is in charge of their paperwork or benefits arriving. If a refuge is upset that they have not received their EBT cards, WRD would be aware of this issue and would be handling it. Volunteers can also use this opportunity to teach refugees the difference between these different agencies.
- Volunteers should understand that not all of refugees' needs can be met, especially by them. This is okay.
Evaluating refugees' apartments and possessions:
- Oftentimes refugees have a different perspective than many Americans. The bus system is their primary form of transportation - that is okay. They may not fill their apartment with lots of stuff - that is okay. They may not have their days filled with 'to do's - that is okay. Volunteers are to get to know the refugees with whom they are working and respect their perspective.
- Refugees come here with their own beliefs, values and experiences. When WRD sets up their apartment, it is filled with basic needs only, as the funds for items purchased initially for the apartment are deducted from refugees' bank accounts. Volunteers are to understand that it is okay that a refugee's apartment is not as filled as their own.
- For example: Refugees may only have one couch and zero items on the wall. They will most likely not have a microwave. Refugees may share plates (and therefore not use all of them) and eat on the floor without utensils. This is okay!
- Volunteer connected to refugees before their arrival are encouraged to add small touches to help make a refugee's apartment a home, such as picture frames or wall art.
- Other examples: Volunteers can take pictures of families and print them off. They can teach refugees to go to the thrift store for household items, not expensive stores like Home Goods or Target.
Giving items directly to refugees:
- Suggested items that will most likely not create dependency:
- Initial, inexpensive items that spruce up a refugee's home, like picture frames
- Items listed on the Basic Needs Support form on the WRD website
- Backpacks filled with school supplies
- Shoes (close-toed tennis shoes are helpful)
- Printed pictures of families
- Teapots, tray and tea cups
- Rice cookers
- Sippy cups for kids
- Bag with toys/entertainment for kids to take to their parent's appointments
- The following should be given through WRD to give to refugees:
- Food Lion Gift Cards should be given to refugees only through WRD
Donating financially to refugees:
- Refugees are most likely going to struggle financially, as they are adjusting to the uprooting of their lives and new beginnings. Volunteers are encouraged to come up with creative solutions for giving, outside of giving financially.
- For example: A refugee child had a birthday three or so weeks after the family arrived in the U.S. for the first time. In order to empower the family and to avoid creating dependency on the volunteers, the Good Neighbor Team purchased a $25 gift card to WalMart for the family. They then rode the bus with the family to WalMart who picked out items on their own to throw a small party for the child.
- However, sometimes financial assistance is appropriate. If you invite a refugee to an outing that costs money, you are welcome to cover their cost for attending. Talk to the volunteer coordinator if at all uncertain as to whether or not it is appropriate to give financially. If it is determined that a financial donation is appropriate, typically volunteers are to give money to WRD, who will then give the money to the refugee. Volunteers should avoid giving money directly to refugees in order to avoid creating dependency.
- For example: If a refugee is facing eviction, a volunteer could feel let to pay their rent. This is far from a requirement, though. Additionally, a volunteer would need to talk to the case specialist before moving forward at all with this.