A Volunteer Experience with Refugee Resettlement

On June 24, 2016; I volunteered with Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services as part of Refugee Awareness Month.   The activity in which I participated was a Home Visit; this home visit was actually accompanying a new arrival refugee family to their first new apartment.  So I had the opportunity to be part of the first contact that the resettlement agency had with the family; the family arrived to Sacramento on June 23, 2016 at midnight; two staff members, Nemat and Rocio met the family at the airport.  Nemat shared with me that it took two hours to the family to be cleared by customs.  The family consists of a 40 year old mother and two daughters, 19 and 11 years old.  Nemat and Rocio took the family to a hotel as the apartment was not ready and the arrival time did not permit to have taken the family to their apartment. 

I met with Nemat and Rocio at their agency, from there, Nemat and I went to pick up the family at the hotel and took them to the agency to complete paperwork, to schedule appointments and to discuss the services that this agency would be providing.  Nemat and Rocio conducted the initial meeting with the family; Rocio facilitated this meeting and Nemat served as an interpreter; Rocio and Nemat were a great teamwork.  

Once the paperwork was completed, we proceed to take the family to their apartment in the Arden area; by the time we arrived to the apartment, Freddy, another member of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services was waiting for us with a truck full of furniture; and we all helped to bring the furniture inside.  The family was informed that the apartment would be furnished with basic items that were donated; the furniture consisted of three single beds, a dresser, dining table with four chairs, couch, two living room chairs; coffee table, lamps; the apartment was provided with stove and refrigerator.  In addition, the family received: blankets, sheets, towels, cookware etc.  I left once we finished bring all the furniture inside, and Rocio and the rest of the team stayed to help to set up the beds, assist to sign the lease agreement and to accompany the family grocery shopping. 

As I drove back to the office, I reminisced on this experience.  I could not avoid worrying for this family; perhaps it was my own countertransference, but I wondered if they would be safe; whether mom will find a job soon and be able to take care of her young girls.  At the same time I realized that this family left their own country seeking for a safe place to live; and I sincerely hope they will find a safe home in the U.S.; and with the assistance of the resettlement agency they will also be able to become self- sufficient.  

I commend Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services and all the resettlement agencies for their amazing work in assisting refugees through the resettlement process; I know for experience how rewarding is to provide direct services to clients and I know how important is for the resettlement agencies to receive the support from RPB.  I wrote this brief summary to let everyone know just through one example the impact of collective work.     

Heriberto Camarena, Staff Service Analyst

California Department of Social Services

Refugee Programs Bureau