My time at World Relief was one for the books. I began in August, shadowing a Reception & Placement caseworker, with a focus on the communications and operations of the office. My first day, I attended the weekly tracking meeting, which is where the staff has a small Bible study, prays, then discusses our closing client cases to make sure their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs have been met. I enjoyed this first introduction to the office and soaking everything in. These are the things that stood out to me that I loved: the diversity of the staff; the variety of culture, language, and perspective (even just the history and knowledge that was contributed to our Bible study was done in a way I had never experienced before); the vulnerability and faith of the staff; the interpersonal and interdepartmental communication.
My first day was a little chaotic, simply because there is no definite structure in a case management role. Once I got used to it, I enjoyed the flexible nature of my job. What I did each day of my internship changed depending on the family that was in need, which appointments needed to be attended, and which orientations needed to be given. I truly got to experience a variety of responsibilities as a caseworker, while also having the space to contribute in the communication and operations department, which was truly fun!
My responsibilities as a caseworker looked like apartment set-ups, Walmart runs, picking up families from the airport, bus and cultural orientations, medical and other government assistance appointments. Between these standard avenues of help, I was able to simply visit with my families. One of my favorite things was getting to know my clients and advocating on their behalf. For example, one couple had recently become pregnant. I was able to befriend the melancholic mom-to-be as she was home alone when her husband was at work. I loved looking for community resources for her to make sure she was taken care of as a mother, including her mental and physical health, and to assist them in taking care of her first baby. Another family always treated me with Ethiopian hospitality; although the couple’s English speaking ability was pretty good for newly arriving in the states, we always made sure to call the translator over to enjoy time together as a family. They served coffee and fruit, and taught me how to say “Good!” and “Thank you!” in Tigrinya.
Setting Up Apartments for Newly Arriving Families
This job also came with several difficulties, mainly that of the language barrier. I began to use Google translate to communicate with my pregnant friend (which didn’t always translate well what we wanted to say!) and use each other’s pictures to teach her English and to get to know each other more. It was difficult conducting responsibilities on my own at times, such as my second cultural orientation. I was set to give this orientation to six adults in the time span between their appointments and picking up their kids from school, which proved to be difficult. They ended up having to finish the quiz writing in Swahili rather than English. Sometimes teaching them the difference between their home culture and American culture was hard because I felt I was offending them, but they were most often understanding and simply seeking friendship.
Some of my favorite moments were enjoying coffee with an Ethiopian family and learning the culture of hospitality that they wanted to build in their home here. It was fun learning to enjoy food, drink, and people as they would have back home. Another favorite moment was visiting a family the day after I had picked them up from the airport. I hadn’t even learned their names yet, but 7 children came running up to me to give me a hug with the biggest smiles on their faces. Later at the social security office, I played with three of the children and taught them a hand-clapping game. They only spoke Swahili and French; I happened to know how to count to ten in French, which proved to be an efficient way to communicate and count for the game. I also enjoyed taking a girls trip to the grocery store to teach them how to use their card. Perhaps my favorite moment of all was attending a sonogram appointment with my pregnant friend, seeing the baby kick on the screen, and seeing the excitement of the mother as she found out the gender of her baby. They were all such sweet moments that I got to be a part of!
From Right to Left: Marcelina, Ashley, Lalia, Furaha at Fiesta
Some of my other responsibilities included social media management and networking. I enjoyed going to community networking and educational events like the Refugee Symposium and Chicano Luncheons in Fort Worth, simply seeking to better engage our audience and to take care of our clients even beyond the end of the R&P program. I also boosted our Facebook and Instagram pages by creating a schedule of posts each week to cover the different areas of advocacy and service that World Relief provides. I’ve enjoyed taking a more personal approach to our social media to draw in support for the people and faces behind what we do. We want faces to be seen and stories to be heard, in hopes that relationships will be cultivated between our volunteers and immigrant families. During Thanksgiving, I took the time to design a World Relief newsletter, simply giving an update on our fiscal year and promoting some products made by refugees. It felt so good to be able to pour my talents, experience, and love from my semester at WR into one last final project.
This internship has truly been so growing and freeing for me, and I would suggest it to anyone that asks. The value of an investment of time and love into standing with the vulnerable is comparable to none; you are left with the treasures of new memories and friendship. Simply just volunteering a couple hours a week would be investable, and I think I might keep doing just that!
Photos and article provided by Ashley Boterf, a former World Relief intern