Continued Connections through the COVID-19 Crisis
Five years ago, I had just started volunteering with US Together. I was friends with two of the case managers, who are fierce women who want to do the best for these refugees and will do anything to make that happen. Around November of that year, one of them posted on Facebook that there was a family in need of a washer and dryer. I told her that I didn’t have any appliances to offer, but I could pick up their laundry, take care of it at my house, and bring it back to them. One of the children spoke English, and I was able to connect with the oldest son. In an Afghani family, the oldest son directs many components of the household. I was just amazed at the connection we were able to foster and the sense of humor we shared. I am always looking for my keys and phone, and he would just shrug his shoulders and laugh. Our connection went from there. I helped them with transportation to the grocery store, appointments, and tasks like that. They would hand over pieces of mail they didn’t know what to do with, and I would help them with any necessary paperwork. I would enjoy tea with them once a week to get to know them better.
It is amazing how much connection can happen just through gestures and nonverbal communication, as not everyone in the family spoke English. As my relationship with them grew, I would take the kids to the park, and we became this little unit. I started collecting toys from the thrift store, and they would come over my house. We would go swimming, have picnics, go on drives, and take hikes. In the winter, I would teach them to play some games. The parents put a lot of trust in me, and I would help monitor the children’s schoolwork. When the mom was receiving thyroid surgery, I was put on the medical record so I could help explain the details of the procedure. This has put me in a unique situation, as I am not their mother or grandmother, I am not their teacher, therapist, or a social worker - I am a family friend, and it has been a fine line that I have needed some help navigating.
With the emergence of COVID-19 in America, we sometimes had to find new ways to stay connected. It was difficult for a while as the Dad contracted COVID. I had been in the house with them, and the children did not tell me until we were all in the car together. As a 68-year-old woman who has experienced lung issues in the past, this was a big risk for me. They felt it was restraining when I was saying I can’t see you while your dad has COVID. They taught it meant he was dirty, and I had to make it very clear those changes in our communication were only because of the virus. In general, there can be this misconception that refugees are dirty or unhygienic because they do not do things exactly the same as us. It was around the end of July when their Dad came down with the virus, so I was able to sit on the porch with a mask and they sat six feet apart from me on a blanket and we just talked.
Up until recently, I still have been heavily involved in helping themnavigate paperwork such as passport applications and information regarding Medicaid. The 16-year-old in the family is incredibly smart, and I helped her take on and learn how to manage those responsibilities. You help one person or one family, and you realize that there are hundreds of others who are in the same position. It can be overwhelming, but when we work to empower each other, we are strengthening our community in a multitude of ways. The oldest child of this family volunteers with US Together now, and sometimes I go to the food pantry with the 16-year-old. I am now the medical case manager at US Together, and I am proud of how far all of us have come in the past several years. I am so lucky to have formed this connection that has withstood the challenges of 2020.