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How refugees are coping amidst the coronavirus pandemic

(WCTV)
Published: Apr. 29, 2020 at 3:05 PM EDT
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By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News

April 29, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – For refugees in North Florida, the coronavirus pandemic is bringing in new challenges as they try to adapt to American life.

The Tallahassee International Rescue Committee has been doing what they can to help their clients, but they say that it has been difficult conveying the severity of what is happening.

These refugees are facing obstacles, not much different from those that most families are dealing with. That list includes the lack of resources at this time, school closures, and job losses. But if you add to that the language barriers and a new country, it is a lot for these refugees to overcome.

On Wednesday morning's weekly Zoom call, you can hear the back and forth of question, translation, answer, translation between mentor and mentee. For refugees like Beata Nyiramana, translators like Brenda Gikunda help them navigate this new digital connection.

Gikunda translates Nyiramana's words, "They haven't experienced something like this before they are trying to cope with this as best as they can."

Nyiramana's children

which has provided laptops to every family in their program to navigate online learning, the countless handouts, and to stay connected with the refuge program. Nyiramana shares in Swahili that it has been difficult having her children focus, and understand what they are learning, which is why she is anxious for schools to reopen.

Gikunda translates Nyiramana's thoughts, "We just don't know how far that is going to take us and if our children are going to learn a lot from the supplies that they do have."

Una Bilic is the Site Manager for the IRC chapter in Tallahassee. She says all of the refugees participate in a weekly Zoom call.

While these refugees have not complained, many of them struggle with digital literacy.

For example, John Bitwaiki was one of the refugees in the training session Wednesday. His home WiFi was not working, and having to use his phone data, he had trouble navigating through the Zoom app, communicating with the other participants.

That is why the IRC has reached out to their clients using informational videos and flyers filled with tips and tricks in the clients native languages.

Bilic shares that the hardest hit for clients however, has been in the job sector, "In the first week that we started working from home mid-March; we had 35 adults laid off in the first week and 15 in the following week."

Bitwaiki, along with Nyiramana are one of the lucky ones that will begin a sewing job on Monday. John says that even during a pandemic, he must provide for his family.

Gikunda expresses what Bitwaiki believes, "He says right now he knows having a job is the most important thing to carry his family through. And he just hopes and prays that for his family and for other refugee families that they are just going to be able to make it through this."

The IRC community was able to provide 15 families, which equates to 160 individuals, fully paid utilities and rent for the month of May, which was thanks to donations from our Tallahassee community.

During this time the IRC has been teaching these families how to obtain gloves and how to make masks. While many have lost their entry level positions, working as college janitorial staff or housekeepers in hotels, Bilic shares that they are resilient and eager to work.

to donate to the emergency fund for refugees during this trying time.

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