The general meeting on November 5th brought out 25 participants attending a panel discussion led by panelists: Zarni Tun (resettlement case manager with Refugee Services of Texas); Lorel Donaghey (employment specialist with Caritas of Austin); Casey Kasper (ESL teacher with Interfaith Action of Texas) and Rebecca Tulis (extended case manager with Refugee Services of Texas). The topic was older refugees – and the issues they face.
The audience included many participants with long experience working with refugees and the exchange was lively and enlightening. Some of the problems faced by older refugees –identified as refugees over the age of 50- included:
- Different cultural concepts of “elderly” – in some countries of origin it may be as young as 40 when people consider themselves too old to work. Also hardship and stress causes many refugees to seem older than their chronological age.
- Refugees over 50 have difficulty retaining information, have some chronic illnesses and may experience social isolation
- General fear of being a burden on family members.
- It is more difficult for them to learn English which makes it more difficult to pass the US citizenship test. This makes them not eligible to receive SSI/SSDI beyond 7 years.
- Employment difficulty since many jobs that would be a good fit (caring for others, childcare, sewing) require individuals to be fluent in English or able to work fast on big machines.
Some of the positive points identified include:
- Older refugees exhibit perseverance, resilience and a dedication to ESL studies
- They are good employees when placement is appropriate, very willing and dedicated
- They generally have some health positives – they are usually fitter and more physically active than older Americans
Solutions/Ideas for Roundtable participants to work on:
- Creating support groups for older refugees.
- Helping with additional orientations (especially to using the bus system).
- Support existing agency efforts to serve and integrate clients (advocacy, health appointments, orientations, etc.).
- Assist with employment – volunteers to identify sympathetic employers who would be willing to provide full- or part-time employment.
- Helping to create specialized ESL classes, or help in tutoring – focusing on folks with low literacy, and little previous formal education.
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