Brief background of Southern Sudanese Community Association:
SSCA’s mission centers around relocating refugees in the Omaha area. They provide support services to aid in adjustment to the American culture. Each weekday classes are available for refugees to learn English, learn how to drive, job interview preparation, and application help, along with various other learning areas. During these classes, SSCA provides parents with childcare, which is utilized by a large number of the refugees.
Each Thursday morning, our group heads to SSCA to provide one-on-one and group ESL tutoring. We have had the opportunity to foster relationships with those who attend each week and even challenged ourselves to explain concepts that have been engrained in us since childhood. The following are our individual thoughts on our time at SSCA:
For 19 years of my life, I was oblivious to what the term “refugee” was and what it meant in American society. From what I’ve learned so far, a refugee is a human being who is in danger in their home country and must flee to avoid government persecution. Once they have relocated to a different country, sometimes with their families and sometimes by themselves, they are no longer a citizen of their home country nor do they become a citizen of the country they currently reside in. I had not personally come across a refugee until the beginning of this year when we began service at the SSCA. I knew that when we were there, we were to assist the teachers with teaching the students ESL (English as a Second Language). However, to be honest, I previously did not know what exactly to expect. Everyone learns at a different pace, and I did not know how I would’ve reacted to teaching a group of adults the basic alphabets. What surprised me greatly, though, was that the more we got to work the students every Thursday, the more we got to understand these remarkable beings and the more we also got to hear their amazing stories unravel. I can honestly say that teaching English, with English being their second language, has been one of the greatest challenges for me this semester. Although, my challenge is miniscule to the challenge they face every day trying to fit into the American culture and lifestyle. I have to say with the greatest humility, that I thoroughly enjoyed their modest company and found it humbling to serve the strong individuals I was lucky to meet here.
My experience at SSCA was simply amazing. Similar to Daisy, I have never encountered refugees until this semester. Nevertheless, this new experience didn’t stop me from having a great time. I went in with an open mind and I was surprised by how much I gained out of it. Every week, we incorporated our teaching with enjoyable activities—playing UNO, reading stories, and sharing life stories. The two hours went by so quickly that I never wanted to leave. They were the nicest and friendliness people I have ever met. They always greeted us with a welcoming smile and handshake, and kept us entertained throughout our stay. Despite the language barrier between us, the community was always happy and delighted to see us. We learned a lot about their culture as well as the process they had to go through to migrate from their country they originally resided in. It was shocking to hear that some refugees took over ten years to come to America. Till this day, I am grateful to have met them and to have been a part of their wonderful family. Nothing makes my day more than working with a group of motivated, hardworking people who try their best to adapt to the new environment while having a great time. It has been truly a blessing to serve the refugees and I hope that their group continues to grow and prosper within the community.
SSCA has been a really neat experience for me this year. I have really enjoyed getting to know the people we are helping and hearing about their backgrounds and the struggles that they have gone through. Before SSCA, I didn’t know much about refugee camps or that they even existed, but I have come to learn quite a bit about the process that occurs from our end of the deal. The refugees are flown over here, given an apartment and a selected amount of money to live off of for 90 days. After those 90 days they are expected to have perfected their English to the point that they can get a job and repay the money that was lent to them when they came over here. Especially in this economy, I find this requirement a little ridiculous. We study English all of our lives and yet we still don’t have it perfected. How are they supposed to perfect their English in 90 days and get a decently paying job? Overall though, this has been an amazing semester so far and I am so excited to see what the rest of the semester brings!
Explaining service with the refugees at SSCA is difficult. Truly describing the joy expressed by these individuals during each week of service would take a better linguist than myself. Each week the refugees welcome our group and accept our attempts to break the English language down into teachable parts. Each week they bear with us as we trudge through the book and try to understand things that have been engrained in us since childhood. Things like why “a” is better than “the” in a sentence or the difference between “there,” “their,” and “they’re.” Each week I struggle, not with working with the refugees themselves but coming to grips with how little I understand my own language and culture. Trying to explain why we celebrate Easter with decorative eggs or how it is customary to sing patriotic songs during the school day can prove difficult. Sure, we come as ESL teachers, but we are also portals into the American culture. This cultural exchange is far from one-sided though. One of my favorite aspects of our service at SSCA is the cultural insight. The refugees who attend are from a variety of countries, like: Nepal, Thailand, and Botswanna. Each of these individuals willingly shares their cultural beliefs and, frequently, their life stories during our lessons. Service at SSCA no longer means feeble attempts at teaching ESL to me but, instead, has become centered around the mutual exchange of information that leads to actual relationships and understanding with those whom we serve. Although these relationships have yet to fully blossom, our group has not viewed this as a deterrent but as a challenge. Even with just a few short weeks left, I have faith that we will continue to build these relationships and gain much from our service at SSCA.