Please sir, can you help me?

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This was the subject line of an e-mail that showed up on my laptop over Christmas break. Like dozens that had come before it, it described the journey that had brought a hopeful Iraqi translator to the United States in search of safety and a better life for herself. Rachel (not her real name) had been in Austin for only a couple of months, and was feeling quite hopeless, having not found a job or roommate to help pay the rent. She was considering moving to South Dakota, where a friend had gotten a job at a meat packing plant.

I got in touch with my friend Meg, who recently started the Multicultural Refugee Coalition, an organization aimed at helping refugees in the Austin area. We had met at a RefugeeWorks conference earlier in the year. We met with Rachel over lunch, and were able to get in touch with her resettlement agency to see if she qualified for Reception and Placement benefits, which she had not received. We’re still waiting on the final word on that issue, but we were successfully convince Rachel to stay in Austin at least a little while longer.

When I started volunteering for the List Project just over a year ago, I didn’t know anything about the U.S. resettlement system. I didn’t know about the complex relationships between government departments, overseas processing entities, and voluntary resettlement agencies. I definitely didn’t know about sponsors, free cases, cash assistance programs, SIV benefits, or pending legislation. I am much more knowledgeable about these things now than I was a year ago. Even today, however, there is still so much I don’t know. My understanding of the system is still very incomplete, and it bothers me.

What surprises me the most, though, is that it doesn’t seem to bother most of the Iraqis that I work with. For them, its the simple gestures that matter the most. An e-mail. A phone call. A visit. Spending 30 minutes looking over a resume. These simple acts can mean the world to someone who is on the brink of despair. And anybody can do them!

While every person and story is different, they all share the common themes of courage, uncertainty, and hope. Obviously, many of our cases require long hours of research and follow-up to resolve more complex issues, and there is a network of experts helping out behind the scenes both inside and outside of The List Project. But it doesn’t take a degree in social work to take that first step and reach out. It just takes someone willing to do it.

If you would like to volunteer as a caseworker for the List Project, please send an e-mail to volunteers@thelistproject.org.


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