When political upheaval is happening thousands of miles from home, it can feel difficult to know how to help survivors of war and turmoil. But as refugees arrive in the U.S. looking for a better life, there are ways you can make a lasting impact within your own community.
1. STAY EDUCATED.
When you mix in constantly changing political boundaries, military maneuvers, and foreign social norms, it can be difficult understand (and keep up with) what’s going on abroad. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or explore the ever-changing dynamics that impact the lives of refugees. Organizations such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) can provide human insight to political situations, and collect donations that benefit refugees, too.
2. CLEAR OUT YOUR EXTRA BEDROOM.
The sharing economy has been a new way to generate profits from unexpected places (like your car or house), but it can also be used for philanthropy. Consider clearing out unused rooms in your home to host refugees in your community. Organizations such as the IRC work with Airbnb to locate temporary housing for refugees. Homeowners are interviewed beforehand to make sure there’s a good fit, as well as setting limits on the amount of time and number of people you're willing to take in. If you're a landlord or property owner, you can also consider connecting with a refugee resettlement agency near you to help provide a safe landing place for families or individuals in your area.
3. HELP WITH THE LANGUAGE BARRIER.
Most refugees are non-native English speakers thrust into a world where it’s the dominant language. You can help them with the daunting task of learning to speak (and read) a new language by donating time with English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. These groups often need patient volunteer tutors and study partners, often regardless of teaching experience. If you're a bilingual speaker, you can also donate your time by providing translation services. To find ESL programs near you, check out the Literacy Information and Communication System website.
4. OFFER TO HELP WITH DAILY TASKS
Imagine moving to a new country with limited language skills and trying to do basic tasks like buying groceries, paying bills, or making and going to a doctor's visit. Simple daily tasks can be complex for refugees thanks to cultural differences. You can help refugees navigate their to-do list by accompanying them on errands or helping with tasks—what some resettlement aid groups call being a "cultural ambassador"—especially in regions where access to public transportation is limited.
5. DONATE MUCH-NEEDED SUPPLIES
In most cases, refugees leave their home country with few possessions. Donated furniture, dishware, electronics, and tools can help families feel more at ease after arriving. To multiply your impact, consider starting a supplies drive in conjunction with a nearby resettlement agency or community action group. Some organizations even utilize Amazon registries to show exactly what is needed most, making it easier to donate with one-click buying and shipping.
6. HIRE REFUGEES AT YOUR BUSINESS
Many refugees are authorized to work in the U.S. but face employment barriers such as language or job skills. And in some cases, skilled and professional workers have a hard time getting U.S. companies to recognize degrees and certifications from other countries. If you're in the position to hire employees for your business, consider how refugees can bring valuable experiences to your workplace. As a consumer, you can still make a positive impact by patronizing business that choose to hire refugees.
7. VOLUNTEER WITH A RESETTLEMENT AGENCY
Resettlement agencies help refugees find accommodations and jobs, make referrals to healthcare providers, and help refugees adapt to their new home. Because resettlement agencies do so much, they often rely heavily on volunteers for help. Some groups, such as the Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City, Missouri, ask volunteers to work directly with refugees, helping with the job application process, mentoring, or at community garden projects. Other needs include sorting donated items or providing rides to doctor’s appointments and activities for refugees.
8. BECOME AN OUTSPOKEN ADVOCATE
Advocating for refugees doesn't cost anything but time. Contact your elected representatives to learn more about their stances on refugee resettlement in the U.S., and share your support for welcoming refugees into the country. While emails, letters, petitions, and tweets help, it’s phone calls that make the biggest impact. Emily Ellsworth, a former staffer for two Utah representatives, says calling in your concerns makes more of a connection. "What representatives and staffers want to hear is the individual impact of your individual story," she told The New York Times. "I couldn’t listen to people’s stories for six to eight hours a day and not be profoundly impacted by them."
9. PROVIDE PRO-BONO SERVICES
If you're an attorney, translator, or medical professional, consider donating your services for free. Organizations such as Human Rights First are in need of volunteer professionals who want to provide pro-bono help to refugees. Legal professionals can help refugees obtain asylum in the U.S., while interpreters can help throughout the process. Psychologists, therapists, and other mental health professionals are also sought after to help with the burden of transitioning to a new life, not to mention the psychological stresses of fleeing war and persecution.
10. OFFER CHILDCARE SERVICES
Imagine relocating your family to a new country, where you struggle to adapt to new cultural norms while seeking out work. For refugees with children, the cost of childcare can be an additional burden. If you are a childcare worker, you may want to consider volunteering your time with daycares or after-school programs that work with refugees. You can also offer to help neighbors or friends with occasional babysitting. Even creating a neighborhood sports team or activity club for children in your area can provide a safe place where they can learn about their new home.
11. BE A FRIEND
Relocating to a new country—and an entirely new culture—doesn't happen overnight. For many refugees, the process is years long, even though help may only be easily available in the first few months after their arrival. It's also isolating. "Coming here is very lonely, and having a friend locally who will have you for dinner or you can have, that is a big thing," Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project, told The New York Times. "Many people just want to cook a huge meal for you and stuff you full of food." Sounds fun, doesn't it? Seek out programs in your area—like Hello Neighbor, a pilot program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that pairs American mentors with immigrants in the area—to see how you can make life-changing friendships. Because no matter where you call home, everyone needs a friend (and a little help).