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Training Expands for Refugee Assistance in WA Schools

PHOTO: As Washington becomes more diverse, workshops are being held in schools across the state to acquaint teachers and school personnel with refugee customs and experiences, and help them relate to the new students and families in their area. Photo credit: kobby_dagan/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: As Washington becomes more diverse, workshops are being held in schools across the state to acquaint teachers and school personnel with refugee customs and experiences, and help them relate to the new students and families in their area. Photo credit: kobby_dagan/FeaturePics.com.
December 30, 2014

SEATTLE - As Washington's population becomes more diverse, there's a greater need to understand what refugees go through, to help them adapt. School's Out Washington is sponsoring training to explain the issues faced by refugees to teachers and other school workers.

Beth Farmer, a licensed independent clinical social worker with Lutheran Community Services Northwest, says some people assume incorrectly that refugees are the same as immigrants, or they're illiterate, or they get free housing and free medical care. There are a lot of myths to dispel, and Farmer says doing so helps people learn how to relate to their new students or neighbors.

"When we start to 'unpack' some of these things we believe, people say, 'Oh, I hadn't really ever thought about it that way.' Once people have that, then they can strategize better, 'How can I best explain it if that's where somebody is coming from,'" she says.

Farmer's advice is to get acquainted with refugee families by approaching them with friendly curiosity about their culture and a desire to learn. Lutheran Community Services Northwest tailors the two-hour training sessions to the prevalent refugee populations in an area, and many of the trainers are former refugees.

She explains, many services and systems Americans take for granted are truly 'foreign' to people who didn't grow up here. For example, her group realized some refugees they work with weren't taking their medications and it took a common-sense approach to figure out why.

"We realized they didn't know what a prescription was," Farmer says. "So the doctor handed them a sheet of paper, but they didn't know what that paper was and they didn't know what they were supposed to do with it. 'Why aren't you taking your medication?' 'The doctor didn't give me any medication.' 'Yes, but they did.' 'No, they didn't.'"

Farmer says many refugees come from educated, professional families, and most want to resettle in the U.S. for the educational opportunities for their children. According to the Spokane-based nonprofit Global Neighborhoods, Washington ranks eighth among states for refugee resettlement.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA