Lifelines: N.H. Refugee Communities On Challenges And Resiliency During The Pandemic | New Hampshire Public Radio

Lifelines: N.H. Refugee Communities On Challenges And Resiliency During The Pandemic

May 7, 2020

Sign of peace and community outside in Derry, New Hampshire.
Credit Victoria Valente of Derry

As part of NHPR's series on trauma in the time of COVID-19, "Lifelines," The Exchange focuses on New Hampshire's refugees. Refugees who resettle to New Hampshire may experience trauma before, during, and after resettlement, and as they build new lives in the Granite State, we look at how the pandemic fits into this process of establishing stability, wellbeing, and community in a new place. 

Click here to find more of "Lifelines: Addressing Trauma in the Time of COVID-19."

Air date: Thursday, May 7, 2020

GUESTS:

  • Alexandra Weber - Chief Program Officer and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker at the International Institute of New England, which provides services and opportunities for refugees and immigrants through resettlement, education, career advancement, and pathways to citizenship. Weber works to strengthen and expand IINE's continuum of direct support services to immigrants by building partnerships with organizations, employers, funders, and communities. 
  • Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau - Program Manager for the New American Africans Program at the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, based in Manchester. 
  • Clement Kigugu- Cheif Executive Officer of Overcomers Refugee Services, whose mission is to empower refugees to become successful, contributing members of New Hampshire society. 

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
This week, NHPR has been looking at trauma in the time of COVID-19 in a series called Lifelines. And today is part of that series. We look at one population in particular, refugees. Since the early 1980s, more than seventy five hundred refugees have been resettled in New Hampshire from over 30 countries. Most have had to leave their homes to escape violence and war and experienced trauma before, during and after relocation. Today on The Exchange, how trauma uniquely affects their experience living in New Hampshire and now in a time of pandemic, the ways they find resiliency and community. We welcome your questions. As always. Our e-mail is The Exchange at NHPR.org.

Laura Knoy:
We have three guests. Xan Weber is with us, chief program officer and social worker for the International Institute of New England, which helps refugees and immigrants with resettlement, education, jobs and citizenship. Also with us, Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau, manager for the New American Africans program at the Organization for Refugees and Immigrants Success, and also with us, Clement Kigugu, case manager at Building Community in New Hampshire Families, the Bhutanese community of Camp Shrimp's also chief executive officer at Overcomers Refugee Services. And welcome all of you. And Clement, I want to start with you. While all refugees who come to New Hampshire, as I said from those 30 countries, have their own unique experiences, are there Clement certain common traumatic experiences that overlap across refugee communities?

Clement Kigugu:
Thank you so much. But I want to just correct two little things. I am not case worker from building committees New Hampshire. . But I'm now executive director of Overcomers Refugee Services. Great. So there's are as as you said, the common trauma among the refugee communities that we see in Asia.

Clement Kigugu:
So these are people who come as refugees, have been in refugee camps for 10 to 20 years. And so they goes to a refugee camp after they left their country due to war, persecution of religion or race. And some of them have, you know, lost their parents or children or, you know, have been incarcerated in prison and stuff like that. I saw when they arrived here and in the U.S., there's still, you know, some of them left their children in refugee camp. So when they arrive here, they're still showing those trauma they had in refugee camps or they have is in their country, and it is still really showing here due to different things because they live in the country when they don't have language, they have a new system that they are trying to manage, trying to understand. They are trying to understand the school system that trying to, you know, starting their new life, having jobs, how to manage their houses, how to manage their life in general.

Clement Kigugu:
So it's really overwhelming for the refugee or for someone who has the trauma, someone who lives in refugee camps for 10 to 20 years and.

Clement Kigugu:
So, you know, having issues with the kids, for example, that are trying to become American while they're still, you know, having the African cultures, or struggling to learn the language.

Clement Kigugu:
So there's a lot of things that really shows that they still have the trauma in their life.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Carolyn, I want to go to your next. What about that? Is there recognizing the uniqueness of everyone's experience? Are there certain common traumatic experiences that that most refugees share?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Thank you. Yes. There's common areas that refugees find challenges that are similar. For example, some of the refugees we have come from countries that speak French. When they get here, the language is English. So there's that process of learning the new language and also for their children, who end up going to a school here, some who stayed in the refugee camp, were not going to school while they were in the refugee camp. So when they come here, they are placed in age appropriate classes. So they have missed quite some time before they start class.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
And that can be very traumatizing for a young child to be in a class where they are not understanding what everybody else is learning. Add on top of having an accent that is different from the rest of the students. So it takes some time for the youth and for their children to catch up with their classwork. There's also families that relocate here, but then their relatives are left in Africa. So you could find the wife who is here, their husband is still in Africa. So they were not relocated as a family. They were relocated in parts and bits because it's so many people who are getting help at the same time. So the important thing is to, first of all, make sure the ones who can come in are brought team first. So that separation also causes anxiety.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
I speak to some families will say, oh, my husband's in South Africa. Maybe they were relocated from Congo and they're somewhat taken to South Africa and that's what brought them to the USA and they're still dealing with how to bring their loved ones to join them here in the USA. So that is one of the big issues that we face. And now, like now, during these COVID-19, the language barrier is a big challenge because all the announcements sometimes will be in English. Some of the community members that we serve are not able to read English. So they'll need to go through a translator and sometimes with translation, some meaning is lost in the translation. So one is not sure whether what they say is exactly what is translated. So trauma can show up in big ways where somebody is actually having a mental issue or small ways where they're just feeling frustrated because what they hope to achieve is not what they are achieving. That is on top of learning a new culture, moving from one country to another and now adapting to the new food, the new culture, the new way of doing things, and also missing how you lived your life, see in Africa or in Bhutan or in a different country. And that is why in the Organization for Refugee Success and Immigrant Success, we encourage the families to grow the foods that they grow in their home country so that it can give them a little bit of normalcy and reduce the impact of their change.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Well, and what you're saying makes it so clear that there isn't just the trauma that refugees suffer, you know, during war and during that long, long time in a refugee camp, but also the trauma of resettlement. And Xan, I want to bring you into this, too. First of all, just your thoughts about the commonality. Even though every refugee has his or her own experience, of course. What commonality do you see them?

Alexandra Weber:
Great. Thank you. And it's really great to be with you. And Clement and Carolyn this morning. I just want to pull it back for a moment and just talk a little bit about the refugee program. You know, refugees come to the U.S. because they're invited by our country. We've always identified and cared about them. The state of New Hampshire have an incredibly welcoming. But they qualify for resettlement mainly because of the degree of persecution and suffering they've experienced in their in their home countries or in countries of asylum.

Alexandra Weber:
So, you know, in a sense, the refugee resettlement program is a human monitoring program and our response really as a country to some of the deepest trauma on Earth. So, you know, I think trauma in itself, you know, is what is known as, you know, understood as an emotional response to an event that's deeply distressing. I think many refugees have extreme events that are distressing and can show up in traumatic experiences and symptoms. But, you know, trauma is a common human experience. And I think in many ways, what could be commented to refugee communities whom are all different are that behaviors and expressions can be culturally specific or culturally nuanced.

Alexandra Weber:
What we've seen in our work and at the International Institute, we have social workers and case managers and many services that are designed to sort of address a lot of different labor areas, including education, employment, legal legal services and programming, all really protective services, I would call them.

Alexandra Weber:
What we've seen is many, like your guests already shared, Carolyn and Clement, really many responses to what what has, you know, carried with them from very deep, distressing experiences overseas and some triggers and things that continue because of the, you know, the structure of the resettlement experience. For many people, trauma looks like, you know, flashbacks and anger and headaches. It can look like nausea. It can be psychosomatic so that the body's manifesting your what's happening emotionally. And, you know, I always think about, I think something that, you know, a clinician in Massachusetts coined this term, the body keeps the score and the body, you know, stores experiences that are both wonderful and distressing, distressing experiences can affect brain development. They can affect attachment systems. And I think for many of our refugees, we see all of that showing up. We see it manifesting. But we also see there, you know, the people who are here are survivors and they are able to carry on and take from some of their experiences and some of their strength and and move that all forward. In our program, we do a lot of work with some of New Hampshire's really great health care systems, and they're really dedicated public health system to connect people with really acute symptoms and acute issues, too, like mental health care and therapies.

Alexandra Weber:
But, you know, and I'm sure we'll get into this, but we can also talk a lot more about what are some of the protective supports that refugee communities and families have.

Well, and Xan, I did want to ask you this, though. You talked about how trauma rewires the brain and certainly the series that, you know, in each pair has been doing this week has looked a lot about that. I wonder in how do children who experience war or violence related trauma, how do they process that differently from adults? Certainly children's brains are more flexible and plastic. And know we often say children are are adaptable. But we also know a lot, Now, Xan, about early childhood trauma and its impact on emotional and cognitive development.

Alexandra Weber:
Right, and I would say, you know, I mean, everybody's different, every family's different. There are support systems are different.

Alexandra Weber:
I think, you know, you're the immediate aftermath of what happens to a child and a traumatic experience and the way that that's contained by it, by others and stabilize has a lot to do with their response. We definitely see trauma in children growing up with attachment issues where they can find it either very, very hard to attach and trust other others or find over overly attached issues and separation anxiety. I think many children, you know, children who are here often, like you said, it's much easier and they adapt much more quickly to certain certain sort of new pieces of life like language.

Alexandra Weber:
Sometimes friendships, sometimes community connections. But I think, you know, their children are much less capable of explaining in her words and thoughts what what's going and understanding their thoughts, what's going on with them emotionally. So I think a lot of what you could see is really some behavioral issues, the deep senses of anger.

Alexandra Weber:
It really is very different for every person. But I think what we've found is it really often shows up as really an inability to use explanations and words, which actually could be hard for anyone. But oftentimes it can be much more specific to like behaviors.

Laura Knoy:
I to remind our listeners that you can join us today in The The Exchange. We're looking at how trauma uniquely affects the experience of refugees living in New Hampshire. And now in a time of pandemic, the ways that they are finding resiliency and community The Exchange listeners. We always want to hear from you. We welcome your questions and comments. . Our phone number is one 800 eight nine two six four seven seven. I want to turn to first Carolyn on this, but hear from anybody. Carolyn you first. What's positive in that first step of the process of resettlement and how does that help refugees who may have experienced severe trauma? Carolyn, you talked earlier about, you know, how. Just recently itself is traumatic language, family separation, long, long times in refugee camps. But what is positive about that first step, Carolyn?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
First of all, it offers an opportunity to have a fresh start. It also gives an opportunity for families to grow together. I've seen the youth advance in so many ways.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Go to high school, go to college and build that career and start all over again, as opposed to if they stayed in that situation, in that if you come where there was no hope and there was no such me to for what was going to be what was going to be the next step in their life and also for their parents, some of their parents, what did during the war, that's where injured and affected by trauma, by the effects or the aftermath of famine, of war and other situations that caused people to re migrate as refugees and,

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Coming to a country like this, you can see acts like a psychologist, you can see a medical doctor who can help you. Some people are injured. They lost their body parts. You can get into a process where you are getting treatment and that is being addressed. And most importantly, where you can have that stability that gives you the ability to heal and to move on and to have a fresh start. Develop a career. The new language. It's more difficult for the parents, as I say, than for the youth. The youth tend to learn languages fast. We had a situation where one of the parents was told that this is not your child because they actually speak a different language. But what actually happened is that in the refugee camp, their children learn languages from each other because some could be coming from combat. That's from Burundi from Rwanda. So you'll find one child can speak in different languages. But for the parents, they kind of stick to their language is that they knew from the start. So that ability to learn and to integrate and to learn other cultures is very important for the youth and also for the parents.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Carolyn, you're clearly a parent working at home. That's the world we live in now. I think it's great. And we've heard dogs barking and door slamming on other programs. And I myself am broadcasting from home. But I have teenagers. Of course, they're still asleep. So we're really glad that you're just trying to juggle it all and be with us today. Clements, I'd love to hear from you, too, on this question that I just asked Carolyn, what's positive about that first step in the process of resettlement, especially given the trauma that people have been through? I'm not trying to sugarcoat it. I'm just trying to ask you what you think about that. That aspect of resettlement.

Clement Kigugu:
Thank you so much. I think there's a lot of positive in initiatives detriment as Carolyn and other people mention, you know, as I said, when the people left their country due to the war persecution.

Clement Kigugu:
And so when they left their country or their village and leave their family members, friend and colleagues behind and they leave their countries, they always go without anything except hope.

Clement Kigugu:
So when they're in refugee camp and they stay for 10 to 20 years, their hope is just to found a place when they can be safe. So when they come to that third country settlement country like us or other countries. So the first thing they feel, they feel like now we are safe, which is important in their life, to help with the trauma they have and knowing that their children are now going to have their life, their dreams as color and say, you know, the kids now can go to school, they can graduate, they can pursue the career that they want and have their life and help their families in future. And also, you know, they even those who didn't have a chance to go to school or their language barrier, for example, they're able to walk and make money and leave it with other people from different countries, long learning they are different cultures and also meet with different peoples like volunteer, for example, that can receiving community volunteer that's interacting with them, showing them they love them, they received them. They give them most of everything that they need. This really helps also get trauma to, you know, go down and feel better more than they were in back home or in the refugee camp they leave.

The other think in regard to the children, for example, that you mention, there's many kids, for example, who were born from their parents, who were raped. Or they just have the kids by force and then the mother sometimes they don't have really the affection to their kids, due too the experience they had. And then when the kids born and grow the mother will not really have the same affection. But if they gave a shit, for example, they give some friends, some of them, they have a trauma. They feel like nobody got us. Nobody loves me. But when they have a friend around and feels safe, they have a program like a sports different program, like some program, for example, where they have mentors who volunteer from different churches. The kids feel like they have someone. We care about them. They have power is to have someone to talk to them. Have someone who can take care of issues. It helps them to feel like now we are in a place where we feel it's a home. It's a place where we can leave. It's a place where we can work. It's a place where we can live longer and safe.

Laura Knoy:
Because their lives have been so unsettled for so long. And actually, Xan, I did want to ask you this before we take a short break. Both of our other guests have mentioned long, long stays in refugee camps and how that in and of itself can be traumatizing. You know, you've already gone through the ethnic based violence or the war or, you know, something terrible. So that's the first case of trauma or the first possible cause of trauma. Why, Xan, do refugees who come to New Hampshire. And I'm guessing all over the U.S. stay so long in refugee camps? I mean, people this hour already have mentioned 10 years, 20 years. Why is it so long then?

Alexandra Weber:
Well, that that would probably require a very long answer. The refugee resettlement process and sort of structure across the world is very complex.

Alexandra Weber:
And many, many groups of people and individuals who who are identified as persecuted and meet the criteria, the definition of of a refugee.

Alexandra Weber:
Part of, you know, who the United Nations has identified for resettlement.

Alexandra Weber:
But there are many fewer spots in the world that that are important or opportunities for resettlement than there are refugees.

Alexandra Weber:
I think the last number I saw was sixty five million refugees and the world resettles less than one percent of them. Often when when someone is in a war zone and maybe crosses into another country and that country will not allow them to to stay, they're put in a refugee camp in a refugee camp, is negotiated across countries for a place to protect people while countries try to figure out what to do with them. Neither, neither country or no other country wants to create a permanent solution. So that can be a protracted situation and it can lead to warehousing and people who are, you know, sort of forgotten in camps for years and years and years. The United Nations does a lot of work to help them survive, but that doesn't mean that they're, you know, that they're able to resettle them in countries that are they're willing to to to accept them. You know, that doesn't get a lot of attention now.

Alexandra Weber:
But the US refugee resettlement program, one of the largest in the world until until more recently and really does an incredible job. All over this country of welcoming people.

Alexandra Weber:
And, you know, I would say the longer someone's in a protracted experience like that, the more complex the trauma can be.

Alexandra Weber:
That means it's compounded and maybe it's repeating itself. It could lead to deeper and more challenging symptoms.

Alexandra Weber:
But, you know, I would say the fact that the New Hampshire organizations and communities like Clement and Carolyn are from like the International Institute are developed and designed after years and years and years of working with with refugees and all all types of of needs and situations. And, you know, just getting back to your original question, I agree with with comment. You know, I think one of the symptoms of trauma is hopelessness. But we see people who are coming with hope. The refugee program offers an opportunity for hope. And then as soon as people are here, you know, it's a very under resourced program.

Alexandra Weber:
And, you know, I think we can all talk about how how much support it takes and how much you know, how much goodwill it takes to resettle people. But, you know, I think people do have new opportunities for resources, for education, for job training. Many refugees are here because of children, they want to give their children a better life. And so, you know, I do hope is that protective factor that is only available because of resettlement.

Laura Knoy:
Well, coming up, we'll talk more about how the resettlement process works and where both trauma and resilience come in.

Laura Knoy:
Also, we'll turn to how COVID-19 is affecting refugee communities and the groups that try to help them. Stay with us. This is The The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. as part of Lifeline's NHP Ours series on trauma. We're examining this, our trauma that refugees living in our state may face. And a little bit later, how the coronavirus pandemic uniquely impacts their experience trying to build a new life here in New Hampshire. Our guests are Xan Weber, chief program officer and social worker for the International Institute of New England. Also, Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau manager for the New American Africans Program at the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success and Clement Kigugu. He's chief executive officer at Overcomers Refugee Services. And all of you, as we've been talking about the resettlement process, what's positive and the many aspects of resettlement that can cause trauma. This really gets into the work that you do. And Carolyn You, first, please. What is the first thing that you do when you're trying to help someone who has just gotten here to help them resettle successfully? Especially given that, you know, they likely have been through some trauma. What's the first one or two things that you do?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
I would like to start by saying that we are a post resettlement organization. What that means is that we are not the first organization to receive refugees that come from different nations.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
So once they get here there is an intense program, that is done by Ascentria, if that helps deal with the initial stages of getting your housing and getting your kids to school, getting medical insurance and all the things that you need when you get to a new country after eight months, it's expected that everybody will have gotten that job. They would have settled, they would have that. There will be well situated to to take off from there, maybe get a job, get insurance from that job, which is usually not the case.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
So that is where our organization and Overcomers and other organizations come in to support their families. Because can you imagine in a new country, you don't speak that language and in eight months you expected to to now start off on your own. So we give that now support of making sure if you have not learned to drive, well we can take you to where the resources that will help you learn how to drive like second start as a driving school. If your kids are in school and they have that gap in between. We have an after school program that can help you start to learn how to catch up with your homework. If you're having difficulties understanding things, we can discuss that. If you down the line need assistance with revising for your citizenship exam. Then we can sit down and go over that together or even the youth, if they need assistance with revising their questions for their driving test. We can do that together. The parents sometimes will need assistance with navigating the system, getting to know, OK, when they go to the store. When I'm spending one dollar, what does that mean in the currency of their country? And what what count is what amount of food we get for this amount of money? So small things like those we continue to teach for some time. Some people are easily able to learn quickly. Others to take even up to five years to be able to settle well in their work.

Laura Knoy:
It's just overwhelming in a way and kind of amazing that people are expected to figure it all out in eight months. Carolyn, to you first, but then I'll go to the others as well. How has the pandemic changed some of that work that you just described, helping someone figure out shopping, helping someone figure out banking, helping someone figure out how to meet with their child's teachers? You know, all that sounds very sort of Hands-On and face to face. And I just wonder how you're able to do that work right now.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
It's a very hands on actually, like, Two weeks ago, we went to distribute food to the families that have been affected. And we had to do it by just buying the gift card and getting their families through the youth to receive this card, so that then they can go and shop and buy whatever food they they would be, they're missing in their households. So now things like the after school program, we usually also have a summer literacy program where we meet them, We meet in a park. And are we able to help the kids read to each other so that they don't lose their reading skills during their summer program. Those we are going to have to do virtually. The parents who have Phones and are available, they are not at work at the time that we have their program, will be able to give their kids this phone so that they can be able to continue to read. But it's truly very difficult. Like the after school program where we can meet together with the youth and volunteers can come in to help, we are not able to do that at this time. Our agricultural program is going on where their parents are able to come to their farms and grow some crops. But again, we have to use protection, distancing. But this program is still on track. Yes, they can make an income from that program. But for the youth, we kind of online, on the phone.

Laura Knoy:
Sure, with possible limitations on the technology that's available and Clement, I want to ask you the same question. I'm most familiar with the Concord School District and the school district does a ton for new refugees, children of refugee families. And a lot of it is, you know, hands on, face to face and so forth. How is that type of support being carried out, Clement now, given that everybody's supposed to stay away from each other?

Clement Kigugu:
Thank you so much. I want to just mention exactly what Overcomes refugee services you do for the refugees. So we stand on three E's, which is education, empower and engage. So as Carolyn said, we are a post-resettlement agency. So we hope the refugee after they have been here for three months, up to five years or more than five years, which means the first step is done by a resettlement agency like Ascentria and International Institute. As the government are for, you know, six to eight months and they assume that the refugee will be on their own. So that's where we really pick up from. And then we try to help them. So I'm educating and empowering refugees. So we help them to understand that the culture and try to find a job for them and then work or their social services, which include all the medical, food stamp application, housing. But we also focus on healing and peace building among the community themselves.

Laura Knoy:
So how are you able to do that work now? Clement, though, given again limits on technology and given limits on face to face interactions.

Clement Kigugu:
Yeah. So this program was a little bit challenging at the beginning, but it also we're very successful due to this program, educating and empower the refugees. So what we did is we put together a response, responding emergency team. So we work together by groups of people who donated their money and NH charitable foundation and the grants that we get there. So we had the three interpreters for three languages Swahili Kinyarwanda and the Nepali, And so we were putting out the video showing how they were able to manage an employment application. So we're putting the video out so that way people can see the procedure, how to do it themselves. And we see many people doing by themselves. They were calling us just to check in, I get stuck here. How can I do this? So we're helping them to go through their application. And also for the schooling as you ask the question. So we have partners who do have some English a little bit of knowledge of technology.

Clement Kigugu:
So what we're doing with posting all the postings from school, from the governor's office and other places to translate in their languages and sent to our website, Facebook page. And What's App group. So people were able to read and follow up with the instruction, which is really really successful for us, which is still a challenge, but was successful for us because people learn how to do the thing by themselves. So people have been learning how to pay the bills, for example, online instead of, you know, going in and by money order. So we're saying how about if you open account and you get your card. We walk through to pay your bills, for example. So connecting with DHHS for example, Concord Hospital, giving them the line, how they can be able to call and make appointments by themself, by watching them, instead of doing the thing for them, but showing them how to do it. Which I would say was really a moment for us to educate our community, and it was a very, very successful.

Laura Knoy:
You know, speaking of that work that you're doing, Clement and helping people find out the important messages and translating. I understand, you're a medical translator yourself, right?

Clement Kigugu:
Yes, I used to be.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah. So have you been using those skills now or are you just too busy doing other things?

Clement Kigugu:
Yes, I mean, I'm. Well, I was helping the new interpreters, so when they translated the documents and then they sent it to me and I look it over and then send it to our manager who manages the website to be able to post.

Laura Knoy:
All right. We've got an email from Arnie who asks, Please ask if there are significant numbers of refugees who are working in Long-Term Care Facilities where the risk of getting ill is very high. Arnie says what is being done to make sure they have PPE? Again, that's the personal protective equipment. I think you already answered Clement Arnie's second question, which is. And are there people who speak languages other than English getting adequate access for information, for example, how to apply for unemployment?

Laura Knoy:
Xan, can you answer Arnie's questions? Significant numbers of refugees who work in Long-Term Care Facilities and only thank you for writing in.

Alexandra Weber:
Sure. And just to clarify, Carolyn and Clement work mostly in Concord. There's there's large resettlement communities in Concord and Manchester, New Hampshire. And the institute has our site in Manchester. And both a century at Caroline's and the International Institute do resettlement in New Hampshire. And so our services, in Manchester, are both very intense, immediate refugee resettlement services as well as longer term post resettlement support.

Alexandra Weber:
So I think that we're really finding now that our our programs are, you know, again, like others have said, have quickly shifted everything online.

Alexandra Weber:
And I think our greatest challenge now is to make sure that our clients have, you know, stable and secure phone access and that they're, you know, they can afford their cell phones so that we can get in touch with them. But we do have a lot of clients that are in health care and social services organizations. For example, we place a lot of people in our job training and programming into Easter SEALs and some other facilities that are that are working with populations that are at risk. And so since we suspended on site services on March 13, we've distributed emergency services. The institute itself raised over one hundred ten thousand dollars for direct client support so that we can continue to support people's food needs and their rent. We're very, very worried that, you know, this population, every low-income population and family in this country is vulnerable right now. Many are losing their jobs. This population is a little, you know, has some extra layers of vulnerability because many of them are so new and because of language, linguistic and cultural challenges. So weraised a lot of funding. We have incredible supporters in New Hampshire. We've been able to deliver a lot of basic needs and emergency needs services. We have secured protect personal protective equipment. We've distributed it to our clients. And then we're also in touch with their employers to make sure that they're doing all they can to protect them at work.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you for the question.

Laura Knoy:
And coming up after a short break, we'll take more of your questions and we'll talk a little bit more about trauma and how the corona virus pandemic is specifically affecting New Hampshire's refugee communities and those who are trying to help them. That's all coming up. So stay with us. This is The Exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Laura Knoy:
This is The The Exchange. I'm Laura Knoy.. This hour, we're following up on the NHPR series on trauma, with a focus on how refugees in the Granite State experienced trauma and resilience, especially with the coronavirus pandemic. Exchange. Listeners, we'd love to hear from you. We've been talking to Xan Weber, chief program officer and social worker for the International Institute of New England. Also, Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau, manager for the New American Africans Program at the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success and Clement Kigugu. He's chief executive officer at Overcomers Refugee Services. All of you. We've been talking about the work that you do with refugee communities and the impact of trauma, the impact of resettlement, and also how the pandemic has affected the work that you are trying to do. And Clement, I want to go to you first. What about jobs? You and Carolyn both tried to get refugees settled into jobs. What are you hearing from the people you work with Clement about the status of those jobs? Some people have been considered essential health care workers, grocery store workers, but others have been furloughed or laid off.

Clement Kigugu:
Yeah, so we had some people who still were walking, especially those who walk in stores, health care facilities, and the other people who were laid off because it's really painful for them for the first time, you know, to stay home two weeks or months.

Clement Kigugu:
But they're getting unemployment benefits. But they're also waiting to go back to work.. And there's a company around that has been really hiring those nursing and stores like Wal-Mart, for example, and other places. So we have a few people, not for people like twenty two, you know, people who went back to work in last week.

Laura Knoy:
Oh, wow. OK. That's a change. And Carolyn, to you. Another aspect of this that we've been talking about with just everybody in New Hampshire is shifting family dynamics, given that some people are at home. Some people are working in these incredibly stressful, essential jobs on the front lines. How have you seen, Carolyn, the pandemic affect the family dynamics of the families that you work with?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Even before COVID-19, employment has been one of the big challenges for the refugee families getting good, stable jobs that are consistent. And this emanates from the fact that language is a big barrier for most of the parents. There is hope because the youth now can speak English. They're going to school and they potentially will get very good jobs and change that. But meanwhile, that topic of employment has been a big challenge because most of the families end up working in restaurants where they're not making enough money or in stores jobs that will give you the minimum wage. So that tends to have not been enough. So most families end up working a lot of hours and that has been affected now because if you work, you know, in hotels, are making beds, you have housekeeping in the hotel and in the hospital, at least the ones in the hospital are still working. But it also it is still very dangerous because of the virus, and PPP in their hospitals. I know you had asked about that, That's what I learned from one of the families, that work in their housekeeping. They are helping with the cleaning and all, And they told me they're getting enough of protective gear. So that was a big relief and encouraging.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
But I'm more concerned about the ones that work in the hotel industry, the ones that work in the restaurants who have had to have either their hours cut significantly and others who work in the factories also,hours cut significantly or losing their job or together. So that is still a big challenge. And also another aspect, there are also some of the families that feel like if we start working, then we will lose the benefits that we have of our free house insurance. So there's also that part of the population that feels that way and kind of stays away from working. So this is a project that is still in the works and we are hoping to get everybody to work once the COVID 19 is over. And also a change of mind. One of the things that a refugee camp does to you because of so many handouts over and over the years, you get to a place where you are used to those handouts, that the transition into a place where you are independent is challenged.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Carolyn, Clement talked about the challenges and the work he's doing in getting these health messages out, these important health messages about COVID-19 to the refugees he works with. How have you been getting the various health messages across to the families you work with, Carolyn?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Same thing. Translation, We are getting material that is translated into different languages and distributing it to their families through most of our families. We have used an app that is called What's App, So we send some of the messages through their posts on our Facebook page, make calls. I'm also participating in the census. So while we are giving out this information about the census and how important it is for people to be counted. We also put in the information about COVID-19. I talked about how we were distributing their food. We were able to reach forty nine families. We were also able to give out this information, we print it out and give it to the families. And if they have youth was able to read English and translate, they are able to read for their parents because some of their parents, even before they left their languages, are not able to read and write in their native language. So even sometimes when things are translated and written on paper, it's still difficult for their parents.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
So we are relying a lot on the youth that we work with to translate for their parents and to make the message very clear, to know when they need to go and see a doctor. How to see a doctor, how to make that phone call and all the necessary information where to get food. Yeah. The food bank has a mobile vehicle that will be delivering food. We have passed that information so that the families that may need to benefit from this service can be out there to receive the food and to have the masks on so that they are also protected if they get their food.

Laura Knoy:
So that's interesting, Carolyn. So some of the adults that you work with can't read or write in their own language. And so translation, written translation only goes so far for these people because they can't read, even if it is translated perfectly. Well, all of you we have talked about, you know, trauma of the original refugee experience, that the war and the violence, trauma in the refugee camps and then some of the trauma that happens just in that resettlement process. On the flip side and Xan, I'll turn to you first. What examples have you seen of refugees being more resilient in these times, given what they've already been through and does? And please take that first.

Alexandra Weber:
I'd say that many low income communities in the U.S. and certainly immigrants who are refugees and come to the U.S.. And just getting started. Don't have much of a safety net. But refugees in particular, at least many of the families and communities that we've resettled have an incredible family and community network. And those really serve as safety networks for them. So I know resettlement is not usually an isolated experience. It's not usually one person from a refugee community who resettles. And if it's if it's one, it's it's the first. So someone coming first and then hoping to reunify it with the rest of their family. So we've had whole networks of refugee communities, Bhutanese communities, Congolese communities, Iraqi communities in the last several years who have come with extensive networks. And then those networks are able to really work with domestic and host communities to really sort of set up resources, establish connections.

Alexandra Weber:
So what we see is being able to pool resources that helps retain some cultural identity, develop and support people as they're first here, like Carolyn said. Children helping parents with language. These are really some of the the ways, I think refugees when they're when they're resettling even, you know. And despite all of the trauma they may have encountered or may experience in the resettlement the first stages rely on in order to to begin to thrive. And I really I think they're really protective factors, and in COVID-19. And the you know, the requirement that socially distance, for us, it's actually been challenging to help some refugee families choose with social distancing over family connectivity, because, you know, that's that is their that is their support system. And then for other families, you know, social isolation does mean, you know, as you were just talking about, sometimes the interpersonal dynamics get that get challenged.

Laura Knoy:
So do some of the refugees you work with. Yes. Did someone to jump in there?

Laura Knoy:
Carolyn, did you want to jump in there, Carolyn? On the idea of of the difficulty of social distancing and and also the idea of resilience. Carolyn, in especially these times, I wonder what you're seeing.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Now, as the African community, first of all, when we relocate to relocate with our parents, we relocate with our with our loved ones. So most of our families, you'll find one apartment has more than the usual number that is in America, like A family has four, Sometimes you would find our families has like six. So that makes social distancing very challenging, especially if one or two of the family members is going to work and coming back.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
That puts the others who are in the house at risk. So that is one of the challenge and also most of the families that live in the Heights, and there is a lot of families that are living there. So it's also very congested. So you're going to do laundry. You're going out for shopping. It makes social distancing very difficult. And also, if you're working in a factory, you're going to be many people in one place. If you're working in the housekeeping and may be in the hospital or in the hotel it's also going to make it very challenging. So those are some of the challenges that our community is facing during this time.

Laura Knoy:
Ok. So working in jobs that might put them more at risk and then coming home, Carolyn, to large families. So there may be more of a spread there. Do you want to comment briefly, Carolyn, on the idea that some refugee communities are actually finding resilience in this time, given that, you know, they have experience with going through a tough time?

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
Of course, yeah. And one thing I would like to mention is that most of our foods from Africa are also very medicinal when it comes to things like flu, like coffee, like the challenges that the COVID-19 is bringing. So we are taking more of our natural foods. If you make breads and also in the refugee community, when you see some of the vegetables, we are growing, you know, a fresh start from some of them are medicinal.

Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau:
So we are finding those foods, helping us to cook more during this time. And also based on the fact that most of the refugees have gone through the trauma of war or famine or leaving their home country, coming to our new country and settling, that also has given a lot of resilience. So this just looks like one of the other things, that other challenge thrown to the refugee community that can be addressed because they've seen an end to living a life where you are in a war zone and then you come to another country, where are you able to live a better life.

Laura Knoy:
Well, all of you, we could have talked a lot longer. It's been really good to talk to the three of you this morning. Carolyn, thank you very much for being with us. I really appreciate it. That's Carolyn Musyimi-Kamau, She's manager for the New American Africans program at the Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success and Clement. Thank you also for being with us. We'll talk again. That's Clement Kigugu. He's chief executive officer at Overcomers Refugee Services. And Xan, thank you also for being with us. We appreciate it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, that's Xan Weber, chief program officer and social worker for the International Institute of New England. The Exchange is a production of NHPR.