Refugee Ministry – Annual Report 2020
Grace Church Refugee Ministry
Carriellen Beaudreau, Pam Dahill, Susan Maloney, Terri Price Musto
January 3, 2020 marked the beginning of the second year with the Faridullah Family residing in the U.S. It got off to a productive start.
Financial Guidance was a key feature early in the year as the finance committee and a volunteer tax attorney, Mary Monahan, introduced the parents and eldest son to the tax system in the U.S. (for which there is no equivalent in Afghanistan). Persons filing for the first time in the U.S. are required to file a paper copy of their tax forms. Due to the pandemic, that meant the Faridullah’s returns were stored in tractor trailers before the IRS began processing paper submissions. We are very grateful to Mary for what became a year of work that was finally wrapped up on December 23, 2020.
The family was introduced to using a credit card to begin to build a credit history and is being coached on online bill paying. That work continues. Recently the Maryland Energy Assistance Program stabilized the family’s energy use bill so they pay the same amount each month.
Health Care The family selected Kaiser Permanente as their Medicaid health care plan. Having all services under one roof makes this health plan easier for the family to navigate than the plan they selected when they first arrived. This change also allows them to handle more of their own scheduling and care.
Dental care remains a costly item and we are grateful the Vestry provided end-of-year funds to support dental services for the family. Most of the children’s dental care is covered by the Maryland Healthy Smiles Program; and the Dad purchases some dental coverage with a plan at work. A dentist volunteers his services for the adults.
Vestry and Rector Updated In January 2020, the Refugee Ministry Steering Committee provided an update to the Vestry and received their approval for planned fundraising for the family. We briefed Rev. Rich on the Refugee Ministry and scheduled an April Adult Forum as a prelude to a fundraising kick off. Those plans were put on pause as we all began to adjust to the pandemic.
The onset of the pandemic immediately canceled the Mom’s English classes at Montgomery College and the Dad’s English classes with English Now!, sidelined the Grace Church volunteer tutors who went to the family home to teach the Mom and children, and disbanded the team of drivers who helped the youngest child get to and from school. These were disappointing losses for all.
Our work with the family shifted to phone calls and online communications. We continue to rely on outdoor, socially distanced conversations and handoffs of everything from paperwork to warm coats. We are profoundly grateful Mr. Farid understands the importance of following public health measures to protect himself, his family, and Grace Church volunteers.
Mr. Farid (Dad) continues in his job at Montgomery Mall on the building maintenance team. During the initial arrival of the virus, the Mall focused on deferred maintenance. Mr. Farid is a part of a small crew that has worked throughout the year.
School moves home. Following the initial pandemic shut-down, online learning for the four children in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) took time to shake out. Grades for the final 2019-20 quarter reverted to the prior quarter’s grade. Online learning for the youngest child who attends Grace Episcopal Day School (GEDS) proceeded smoothly with her school dropping-off school materials, supplies, and a teacher providing an IPad her own children no longer used.
Engaging summer programs for all the children were planned and scheduled, summer camp scholarships were secured, and then most were cancelled. Two of the boys went to HoopEd, an outdoor sports camp, for two weeks at GEDS, thanks to their generous donation of a scholarship. The eldest son secured a partial scholarship for a Cyber Security class sponsored by Lutheran Social Services. He recently completed the course and is planning to take the exam in order to receive his certification.
As the 2020-2021 school year began, the eldest daughter attended an online introduction to Bethesda Chevy Chase High School (BCC) for rising 9th graders. MCPS had more time to prepare for school opening and Grace Church volunteers drove to pick up computers and wifi signal boosters. Students also received some books and supplies, but most materials are shared online. At this point, the three eldest children’s classes are all online at the same time. The two eldest boys serve as the family “tech team” and have assumed many responsibilities for the family.
After we put out a call for readers for the youngest boy, he was invited to attend Bar-T, an in-person program at Rock Creek Forest School, which includes in person activities, meals, and supervised online work. The youngest daughter who attends GEDS loved the in-person outdoor program for Pre-K children two days a week during the fall. With the cold weather, it’s back online for now.
We remain concerned about the limits of English language learning for all the family with less frequent contacts with English speakers. The team arranged for Farid to continue to take his 90 minute English class from English Now! remotely, and Mrs. Gul Jamala (Mom) recently began English language learning with a tutor from the Literacy Council of Montgomery County.
The social service systems that provide support for the family now have scaled back operations. For example, WIC services shifted from in-person, to phone, and then postponement. Other services from SNAP (food stamps) to health insurance changed their processes and access. Reporting requirements have been minimized at the same time.
Transportation remains an issue for the family. We were delighted when a parishioner offered to donate a family car to the Faridullahs–a 1996 model. That car served the family for several months and helpfully freed volunteers from driving in many instances during the pandemic. The Faridullah family is now investigating getting a newer vehicle.
Priorities for 2021:
College: Encourage Omar (oldest son) who is a Senior at BCC to complete the actions needed to apply to Montgomery College by March for admission in the Fall.
Affordable Housing: The family would like to locate secure, affordable housing ideally before the next school year. They are seeking a less costly, likely rental, home. Extensive groundwork was laid for the family to attend classes to learn more about home ownership, and take advantage of opportunities such as Habitat for Humanity, but those information sessions were canceled due to the pandemic.
The priority for Refugee Resettlement is to help a family attain self-sufficiency: We are blessed with helping a family which is eager to attain those goals and flourish in their adopted country. During these two years we have worked in a political environment that has eroded existing support for refugees; and impediments due to the pandemic continue. We look forward to turning our attention to the deferred fundraising for the Faridullah family as they strive to achieve their next goals with our help.