Friday, December 19, 2008

The most wonderful time of the year

To all of my fabulous, outstanding, and amazing volunteers:

I wish you a wonderful holiday!
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!

May your life be filled with joy, your heart filled with love, and your mind quieted by serenity.

Peace to you.

Our office will be closed for two weeks, beginning December 22. We will return on Monday, January 5.

Email glitch!

The DPS email system is experiencing serious difficulties. For the past week, we have been unable to send mail to any Hotmail or MSN email addresses.

Since last night (December 18), email has been completely unavailable--the server is down and we can't even open the email program!

If you are waiting for an answer to a message you sent, it may take a while before I am able to respond. Sorry!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Still here!

Contrary to popular belief, your blogger/volunteer coordinator has not absconded with all of the picture dictionaries and fled to Tahiti.
She'll be back in the swing of things very soon. Actually, she's in the swing of too many things--that's why it's been so silent around here!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Denver's refugees featured in Rocky Mountain News

About a month ago, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News contacted various people within the Colorado Refugee Network regarding a possible series of articles on the topic of local refugee resettlement. After many interviews, the stories were published this week.

Here are links to all of the RMN articles in the series. Click on a story title to read that article. (Photo: Darin McGregor/Rocky Mountain News)

300 Refugees give thanks for a year in America (Thanksgiving at ACC)

Iraqi refugees carve out a new life (Jafaar Al Saad and family, Iraq)
Companion video/slide show for the Iraqi refugees story (it's very good!)

Healing hope for refugees (about two of the Lost Girls of Sudan living in Boulder)

Escaping the past, believing in the future (feature article)

Seeking a better life for children (Som Baral, Bhutan)

A high price for peace: Leaving family behind (Josefina Castro, Colombia)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Notes from the field

A is for "apple." But, what's an apple?

Wa Kyi and I have worked on some very basic conversational language, numbers to 100, telling time, and days of the week, and now we're working on money.

As I teach new material, I keep being reminded of how many prerequisite skills there are to learn (like reading a clock or a calendar, or doing mental math, or grasping the concepts of coins and bills) before we can really get into the new language...Today I got to try some wonderful Burmese food and learned the words for fried rice, cake, water, and delicious in Karen.
--Erin Gotwals

Still waters and relative progress
Moo Na...has been the most quiet of my little group. Today when I got there, she was alone and she took the time to show me her "stuff". She walked across the floor and said, "I am walking." We got to the kitchen and she turned on the light and said, "the light is on"--turned it off and said, "the light is off." Turned on the water and said, "the water is on"--turned it off, "the water is off."

This is the first time that she has really come out of herself and wanted to "show off". I was so touched. She and her husband lived in a village in the mountainous region of Burma and owned two elephants and a number of water buffalo. The Burmese soldiers killed her husband and stole her money. His brother came and took all of the animals and left her destitute with her son being only about 8 years old. I'm sure that you've heard all of the stories and wept. This touched me so deeply.
--Jean Clark

Monday, November 10, 2008

The personal cost of conflict

Today is November 10, a day that bloggers around the world are dedicating their space to raising awareness of refugee issues. The issue most in the spotlight, though, is the impact the world's conflicts have on families.

Think about the dream you had as a child. Do you remember? It was the dream where you were standing alone in a strange place with nobody familiar anyplace nearby. You were physically OK, but the fear and swelling panic in your chest were almost unbearable as you realized there was no familiar face to anchor you, no family member to accompany you as you stumbled through the chaos.

That dream.

Around the world, millions of refugees have lived this scenario as a frightening reality. Fleeing for their lives, they became separated from family, from their spouses, from their young children. They didn't know where to look for their loved ones, and there was no way to find out where to start. But they do look, and they start in some of the most dangerous places they have just fled.

This reality isn't characteristic of just one conflict; it is a running theme that has continued across continents and through centuries, snaking its way from family to family, war to war.

1995. Somalia. Sitey was awakened by the sound of gunfire outside. She lived in the same village her family had lived in for generations. They were pastoral farmers, poor, but self-sufficient. She gathered her infant son close to her chest and looked out the window. Somali soldiers were attacking her neighbors outside, and homes were succumbing to bright fires that snapped like angry, biting jaws. Sitey roused her other children and her husband, and all fled into the night.

When dawn came, Sitey was missing two children. She waited for as long as she could--long after her family and neighbors had run to safety. Her children were nowhere to be found. She started walking toward the Kenyan border, but when she caught up with relatives, she asked them to take her baby--she would not go on without looking for her kids.

Aliza is tall and dark-skinned, a Sudanese woman of Chiluk heritage. She stands tall and walks gracefully, and her beautiful smile is enhanced by her high, striking cheekbones. She is soft spoken. For the first time in the three years I've known her, Aliza spontaneously begins talking about her life in Sudan.

Shortly after her first wedding anniversary, her husband disappeared. He vanished without a trace. Aliza had an infant son and no money. She braved her first ride in a rickety rowboat as she set off to look for her husband in the last place he had been seen. All she could think about was that when her older brother was only ten years old, he was taken at gunpoint by soldiers. He was forced to serve, forced to fight. Neither Aliza nor any family member saw the boy again, although they searched frantically, asking strangers in nearby villages for any information about the child. He wasn't seen again until he was 26 years old and very, very far from home. By then, years of a brutally hard life--most of it spent firing a gun--had taken their toll. His family tried to scrape together the money to go to him, to bring him medicine, but time ran out. He died less than a year later of respiratory illness. Aliza said, "And he died alone, not even one person to be there with him. Nobody knew where was this boy. Nobody saw him. He was alone. He was my brother. I waited for him all those years, but I didn't see him."

Selver watched his home burn at the height of conflict in Kosovo. He gathered his kids and headed out of the village, nervously taking note of the bodies of his neighbors strewn along the side of the road. Villagers came on foot and on tractors--their cars had been confiscated by the Serbs. The family made its way out of town, only to be stopped by soldiers at a Serb checkpoint. The Serbs collected everyone's documents and identification, stripping the Kosovars of their proof--proof of everything they were or had been.

When Selver made his way to the Albanian border, it was raining. A makeshift refugee camp had started to emerge from the empty fields, and a growing number of plastic tarps stretched across the uncertainty. Selver kept his kids close. Several of his friends were missing, and he knew that once a person strayed from sight here, it was possible they would vanish with the morning fog. Selver knew that no matter what else he and his family did, they must stay together. He told me once that so many people from his village disappeared, he couldn't name all of them anymore.

To be a refugee means many things. It means starting over with the never-completely-lost hope of going back to what ended. It means having nothing but your life. It means knowing how strong you are and how resourceful you can be and that's how you survived. It also means facing loss. Loss of home, loss of the familiar, loss of the past and perhaps of the future only dreamed of. For many, it also means the loss of loved ones.

Liberata lost her children on a dark night in eastern Congo. When they fled, they ran to the forest. In that night of chaos, Liberata had to keep going, hoping against hope that her kids were doing the same thing somewhere close by. Liberata walked through the jungle for months. She made it all the way to the Congo River and headed north, walking, walking, until she crossed the border into the Central African Republic where she officially became a refugee. She has no idea where her family members are. None. She is here with a daughter and a nephew. She is down one husband and four children.

For anyone who has never experienced war, there is no way to comprehend all of the levels of loss. Losing everything has no real meaning until a survivor realizes there is no family, there are no friends. They might be alive, they might have perished. Are they looking for me? Does someone know where they are? It is the not knowing that ignites both hope and gut-clenching anxiety. To lose something precious is painful; to lose something and not know if it is really lost or just waiting to be found is maddening.

Aliza was eventually reunited with her husband, but friends who were secretly jailed never came home. Sitey located her two children in the orphanage at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. Unfortunately, it was a brief moment of reunion--Sitey's immigration documents were ready, and her departure to the U.S. was imminent. She hasn't seen her kids in five years, and they are not eligible to come to the United States. Sitey grieves deeply about this, but she is comforted by at last knowing where her children are in the world.

After World War II, the Red Cross spent a great deal of effort trying to reunite Europe's war refugees. It was a tedious and difficult task since so many people had perished or moved on. The Red Cross continues this work in post-war settings today.

There is another group, though, that is using the power of the Internet to help refugees worldwide connect with their lost loved ones. Refugees United is a very small nongovernmental organization providing a secure and widely accessible portal service for separated refugees. Check out their Website, read about what they do, and spread the word.

Silence is the enemy of the lost.

Monday, October 27, 2008

International Crafts Boutique November 5!

Please join us for the second annual International Crafts Boutique at Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Student crafters from the ESL Department will sell their handmade items for one day only. The sale will also feature the work of our very own A Little Something: The Denver Refugee Women's Crafts Cooperative.

International Crafts Boutique
Wednesday, November 5
9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Emily Griffith Opportunity School
Room 238
1250 Welton St.

The sale will be on the second floor, just down the hall from registration. Please note: All sales are cash only! There is an ATM very conveniently located about 30 feet from the sale location.

We expect to have jewelry, knitting, crochet, weaving, leather work, embroidery, and more. Start your holiday gift shopping early, or buy a lovely one-of-a-kind gift for yourself. All of the proceeds from this sale go directly to the artists themselves.

We hope to see you there!

Happy Halloween!

Imagine that you know nothing of a culture and you are a newcomer living within it. You wander into the supermarket or Walgreens and you are immediately face to face with: A plastic skeleton that laughs menacingly when you walk by. There is a disembodied hand that wiggles its fingers if you touch it. There are orange and black colored things everywhere, and there is so much candy around, it seems as if everyone has suddenly gone on a sugar binge.

Confused? The next time you're out and about, think about how baffling this holiday time must be for our students. Yesterday I was shopping and I stumbled upon a huge Christmas display with shelves stocked for a holiday that isn't even this month or next.

There are many potential lessons wrapped up in our holiday traditions. I've often told my students (at the higher levels) that most American holidays came from Europe where they were already a mixed up combination of ancient animist traditions and newer Christian holy days that were sometimes moved to coincide with the less religious celebrations. Personally, I get very frustrated when I hear someone say that Halloween is about death or the devil or satanism. Who started this rumor?

If you want to know the true origins of Halloween and get some great lesson activities as well, check out these online resources or do a Google search using the keywords "ESL Halloween." Click the underlined text to go to a link.

Finally, you should definitely explain to your student that on Friday night, little costumed creatures will be knocking on the door and looking for candy. those with kids in elementary school may be expected to provide party treats or a costume for their child at the very least.

Here's hoping your Halloween is more treats than tricks. --SM

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Greetings to our Muslim friends and students

Potty training: A global perspective

From time to time, I hear about refugee resettlement issues that are relevant to volunteers who are regularly in refugees' homes and familiar with aspects of the student's everyday life. This week, the topic is toilet training. I have been asked about this before, but since I do not have children, the process has always been somewhat of a mystery to me.

Let this be one more opportunity for you to be a cultural broker. (The following conversation is between IOM Cultural Orientation personnel and resettlement workers in the U.S. )

Throughout the course of our work at the Refugee Housing Program at Mercy Housing, we have regularly heard complaints about young refugee children urinating on carpets, in common areas and other places other than in the bathroom. This is a problem that seems to transcend ethnicity and nationality. Regardless of its commonality, this can cause serious problems, including expensive cleaning charges and eviction for refugee families. Does anyone have any background information on various potty-training practices refugee families are bringing with them? Better yet, has anyone found any approaches that help to address this problem in a sensitive-but effective-way?

Leslie Olson
Refugee Housing Program
Mercy Housing
I can imagine a couple of dynamics here:

1. Some amount of urination on the floor can be part of the learning process -- figuring out the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not; reveling in the control the child has over their bodily functions.
In my experience as a parent, this can be more of an issue for boys than for girls, and for boys, "drawing" with urine can be a temptation. However, the parent's response to the action can be a factor in its recurrence. The parent has to also view urination on the floor as a problem -- if they do not, then the issue is educating the parent about the expense, smell, U.S. norms, potential for eviction, etc.

2. Refugee parents coming from places where it was normal to go to the bathroom outside, or to use the ground as the toilet, may not have experience potty-training a child in the way it is done in the U.S. They may be at a loss to know how to redirect the child's behavior, if the use of flush toilets is new to them as well. A positive parenting approach is to reward children for correct behavior (stickers, etc.) rather than punishing them. These methods will be unfamiliar to many refugees, and may be culturally uncomfortable for some. But it is worth offering them to refugees as a parenting tool. (A reward system assumes that a family has some kind of reward to give, but this may not always be the case, or may require some creativity around what to use as a reward -- if it is TV time, or junk food, this can raise other issues.) There is some discussion of discipline methods in our BRYCS illustrated parenting booklet (p. 11-14):

3. A refugee parent who is depressed or overwhelmed may not have the energy to respond to the action, which can also affect its recurrence.

Changing the behavior will require a consistent parental response. The parent may also need to discourage older siblings from laughing at the behavior, since laughter may encourage it (siblings also have an interest in not having a smelly home.)

4. Often, children just don't realize they have to go until it is almost too late. Putting a potty chair in a child's room, the place they are playing, or even outside, can help a child to avoid accidents, particularly if they are afraid of the flush of the toilet, or the bathroom seems too far away, or the toilet is too tall for them.

5. Again, as a parent, two other methods recommended to us were giving M & M's for using the potty (1 M&M for liquids, 2 M&M's for solids), or with a boy, putting a couple of Cheerios into the toilet and using them as target practice (apologies for the graphic descriptions!)

6. Involving the child in cleaning up the mess can be a deterrent.

Here are a few on-line potty training resources (I've not reviewed

Good luck,
Susan Schmidt, MSW
Bridging Refugee Youth and Children's Services (BRYCS) Consultant


Regarding potty training as practiced by Karen refugees from Burma, one of our Burmese/Karen CO trainers states that infants may wear cloth diapers; slightly older children, however, usually run around without any underpants or diapers. When nature calls, they "just go anywhere inside the house, and then the parents will clean up for them later." No big fuss is made about this.

While holding a child without a diaper or clothing on the bottom, people are careful about which direction they are pointing the child. When potty training does occur, the parent usually helps the child squat with their bottom over a crack in the bamboo floor (the house is made of bamboo and raised on stilts). The parent makes "a squeezing sound" as though defecating, and the child follows suit. Children are usually encouraged to attend to bathroom chores prior to bedtime so as to keep the bedding dry.

Another source told us that parents don't do potty training at all: it's left for the teachers when the children first go to school. Indeed, in the US, small accidents may happen, but it is to be remembered, they are small.

Peter Salnikowski
CO Programme Coordinator for SEA
IOM Mae Sot


Years ago we had a high rise public housing project in Springfield. The elevators didn't work and there were no toilets for kids playing outside. The result: they went in halls and stairwells because they didn't have time to get home.

However, my guess is that the problems with many of the refugees may be that they were living in situations where they had no diapers and in refugee camps there would have been no carpets to cause problems if little ones went where they were. Also, the cost of diapers may be a problem.

Would a community meeting asking "How did little ones manage where you came from?," and going on to explain about carpets, help? I am not sure how you convince people to pay for diapers!

Jean Caldwell
Springfield Somali Steering Committee

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Net return on a small investment

Do you remember the last time you had a mosquito bite? It was annoying, wasn't it? Did you go camping and get a lot of bites? That probably made you terribly uncomfortable, but it was probably easy to treat with some Benadryl cream or a dab of witch hazel. Did you ever, though, fear for your life when you got those mosquito bites? Probably not, but for millions of other people around the world, a mosquito bite might well be the start of a serious illness that can lead to death.

Malaria. It seems so foreign when you live in the U.S., but malaria kills millions of people every year. Refugees are especially vulnerable to Malaria because of where they live and the often poorly protected conditions in the camps. Those who contract malaria but don't die from it, may still face a lifetime of ongoing effects of the illness, including possible brain damage and full-blown relapses. Some of the refugees who come here, particularly from Africa and Burma, have lived through this ordeal or lost family members to it.

International facts:

  • Each year, malaria afflicts approximately a half-billion people (roughly the population of the United States, Canada, and Mexico combined).
  • Malaria kills more than a million people per year; 90 percent of those who die are African children.
  • Every 30 seconds in Africa a child dies of malaria.
  • Malaria incapacitates people, keeping countries poor. In addition to the health burden, malaria illness and death cost Africa about $12 billion per year.

  • And yet, it's not that hard to stop an infection in the first place. A simple mosquito net is often a very effective barrier between a human and a malaria infection. Do you have $10 to spare? For a small donation of only $10, you can help Nothing But Nets purchase one mosquito net to be used by a refugee.

    Think about it. Skip a couple of trips to Starbucks and use the money to save a life. Or two.

    This fall, Nothing But Nets will work closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to send urgently-needed nets to more than 630,000 refugees in 27 camps in four countries where the threat is greatest:
    • Uganda
    • Eastern Sudan
    • Kenya
    • Tanzania

A donation of $10 will buy a net. That's all it takes. Visit this part of the Website and see what this UNHCR partner program is all about. Click here to read about why Nothing But Nets has partnered with UNHCR. By all means, play the video on the home page of the Website. the music is incredible, and the message of the video will give you something to think about. Like how to spend $10.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

UN Day of Peace

The United Nations International Day of Peace is this Sunday, September 21. To learn more about the day and the events that commemorate it, visit the official Website: The site has informative links--explore. There's a lot to learn. The news and events section was particularly interesting for me.

You can participate in the Day of Peace right here in Denver.

United Nations

International Day of Peace
Colorado State Capitol, Denver
Sunday, September 21, 2008
West Steps, 3pm

Interfaith * Intercultural * Interracial * International
Celebrating One Global Family

Featuring Colorado Musical Missions for Peace, Los Lantzmun Band,
Collegiate Ambassadors for Peace
Contact for information
Sponsors: Ambassadors for Peace of Colorado, UNA-USA

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learn with the pros!

The COTESOL conference is coming up in just over a month on October 24-25. You don't have to work in the profession to attend this excellent conference. Volunteers can attend for a discounted rate of $85 ($75 for one day only). The price goes up $20 after October 3.

There are sessions to address just about any teaching issue you'd like to know about. This is also an opportunity to talk with ESL teachers from all over the state (and several other states, as well). Team A Little Something will be presenting at the end of the day on Saturday, October 25.
The conference takes place at The Red Lion Hotel at I-225 at South Parker Rd.

For registration information, session schedules and descriptions and more, visit the COTESOL Website at

Tell your friends!

The next all-day training for the in-home tutoring program is coming up very soon. If you know of anyone who would like to join the fun of home tutoring, please pass along the information.

Saturday, September 27
8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Applications are available online at The training after this one will be sometime in November. Date TBA...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Group Opportunity

I currently have two groups of refugee women in need of a teacher. Both groups have between 5-7 students. Most have low-level proficiency in English. Literacy varies significantly.

The groups are in two locations and would prefer to meet twice a week. Team teaching with another tutor is recommended.

Group #1
1217 W 10th Ave
Click here to see a map

This group meets in a quiet classroom at the Bridge Project in the Lincoln South housing complex. Because Bridge exists to serve children after school, this class must meet during the week and class must finish no later than 2:00. this location is just steps from the Light Rail station at 10th & Osage.

The students in group #1 are mostly Somali Bantu women who have a beginning level of English and no literacy.

Group #2
1905 Blackhawk St.
click here for a map

This group has approximately five women from Burma and Ethiopia, but more women would like to be included. This group is mixed in terms of English ability and literacy. The group meets in the apartment of one of the Burmese women. This group does not sit in chairs, so you would have to be willing to work from the floor. I suggest bringing a lamp.

This location is a couple of blocks east of I-225 and a few blocks north of Colfax (Fitzsimmons area).

Please call me (in the afternoon) if you are interested in helping out with one of these groups. 720-423-4843.
Get Your Flapjack On!

3rd Annual Pablo's Pancake Breakfast
Benefiting the African Community Center
Refugee Resettlement Program

All you can eat pancakes, sausage, juice, and coffee!
Great prize drawings: Win cool stuff!
Bounce castle for the kids!
Sunday September 14th
8am to Noon
in the Pablo's Parking Lot
630 E 6th Ave
$6 presale /$7 day of event

Get fed, drink great coffee, win stuff, meet the neighbors and support a great cause!

Find out more about the African Community Center at

Thanks to our 2008 Sponsors: Fashion Denver - Brothers BBQ - - SputnikRock the Cradle - Fancy Tiger - IndyInk - Wine Seller

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Social Networking

I would like to thank all of you who have invited me to be part of your online social networks. As you probably noticed, I did not join your network. This is in no way a reflection on you or my willingness to be part of a social network, per se. Let me explain why I do not accept these invitations.

First, because my office is located within a Denver Public Schools facility, I am unable to access any online social networking Website through the school's Internet service. There is nothing I can do about this as it is just DPS policy. Many sites are blocked here, including FaceBook, Bebo, Hi5,, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, and most other social networking services.

Of course, I could set up social networks from my computer at home, but I still choose not to. Within the last 18 months, someone who apparently knew me from long ago saw my profile on and tried to track me down. Doggedly. It got scary and I no longer felt safe at work or at home. I removed myself from every kind of online thing I could think of, from Classmates to Amazon, Yahoo Groups, and more. If I need to be part of an online group, I do so under a pseudonym with my location listed as an obscure town in the Southwest that is actually uninhabited. Seriously. There is always going to be public information available that I cannot control, and I don't mind my work information being out there, but otherwise, I prefer to keep a low profile (or no profile, in the case of social networking).

So, I really do appreciate that so many of you have invited me to be part of your social networks, and I'm sorry that I can't accept those invitations right now. I am not anti-social, just trying to stay safe, or at least, as safe as I can in this cyber age.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Summer break

Your volunteer coordinator is currently out of the office for the duration of the summer break at Emily Griffith. If your student has a family member enrolled in ESL classes at EGOS, please be aware that school will not resume until the first week of September.

CRESL In-Home Tutoring Headquarters will be closed for three weeks from August 9 through September 1. We will resume normal office hours on Tuesday, September 2. Classes at EGOS also start on September 2. Sharon will not be available to check voice mail or email messages during the summer break.

See you in September!

Back to school

Although classes at Emily Griffith don't resume until September 2, the kids attending Denver Public Schools return to classes very soon--August 18. If your student is the parent of a DPS child, there are ways you can support her (him) in getting the kids ready for school.
  • School supplies: Most schools provide a comprehensive shopping list prior to the start of the fall semester. Consider donating a few supplies to the cause. School supplies are drastically on sale right now. Click here for a list of schools and links to their Websites, which link to supply lists

  • Uniforms: Many of the kids on the east side of town will attend Place Bridge School. Although uniforms are not required, per se, there is a very specific dress code for students. Parents might need some help getting the right clothing for their kids. Some will have the money to do this, some might appreciate a helping hand. It is better to buy the clothes outright rather than giving money.

  • Start-of-school papers: It amazes me that considering the level of diversity within K-12 schools, teachers still send home very complicated information packets for parents. Our students can't understand any of it, and this can be a real source of stress and frustration. Anything coming from the school must be critically important, right? Often it isn't. You can help by sitting with your student and separating the important from the not-so-important, and if possible, explaining what each thing is in simple language. Also, some things will need to be signed, and you can explain those, too.

  • Expectations: In many cultures, parents have no involvement in their child's education. In U.S. culture, we expect parents to monitor homework, assist with school projects, and attend parent-teacher conferences. In the schools, there is often a misinterpretation of parent interest regarding a child's education. It isn't that refugee and immigrant parents don't care or don't wish to be involved, rather, they don't know they're supposed to. Also, parents may feel embarrassed because they speak less English than their children or have no formal education themselves. Role-playing the parent-teacher conference--maybe even going along--might be one of the most helpful tings you can do.

  • Homework: Explain what it is and that parents should make sure their children do it. You may be called upon to help with homework or at least to check it. Whether or not you actually do this is entirely up to you! Parents may feel frustrated and ashamed that they cannot help their children in this regard. Be sensitive to this fact and reassure your student that someday she'll be able to do it!

  • Nutrition: Some of our refugee kids will be enrolled in school breakfast and lunch programs. A good lesson for the parents would be to explain what good nutrition is for kids and how critically important it is that children are properly fed at breakfast and lunch. A hungry child cannot learn effectively, but if parents have never had to prepare their kids for school, this may not be something they have thought about until now. See the earlier post on this blog about nutrition lessons created specifically for refugees.
If your student's child comes home with a paper that requires more explanation, don't hesitate to call the school directly. While you're at it, help your student learn the language of asking questions on her child's behalf. This is a skill your student really needs!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Invitation from Denver's Burmese Community

Memorial Service for the 8888 Uprising
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Colorado Capitol
Lincoln St. at E. Colfax Ave.
4:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Twenty years ago today, the people of Burma demonstrated in the streets of Rangoon, demanding democracy and the restoration of human rights in Burma. The protests soon spread throughout the country. The oppressive military regime sent soldiers out to stop the uprising, and over the course of several days, thousands of people were killed. Nobel Prize recipient, Aung San Suu Kyi, emerged as a national icon for freedom and democracy among the Burmese people.

The Burmese people have struggled for democracy and their very survival since the 8888 Uprising.

Each year, Burmese people around the world gather to commemorate this sad day in their nation's history and to help build awareness of the plight of the people who live under the brutal regime that still rules Burma. The anniversary is marked by candlelight vigil, community gatherings, or peaceful rallies.

On Saturday, August 9, the Burmese Community of Colorado will gather in front of the Colorado Capitol building for a memorial service honoring those who perished in the 8888 Uprising.

The Burmese Community in Colorado invites you to join the memorial service this Saturday. The group will remember the significance of 8888 in a show of support not only for Burmese people who still live under oppression, but also for those who have become refugees and are scattered all over the world.

Click here to learn more about the 8888 Uprising.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Troubling news linking autism and Somali children

This story has been circulating in the media for the past coupkle of weeks. In case you misssed it, you can access it by clicking here.

Here is the start of the article:
By Elizabeth Gorman
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Short yellow school buses deliver children with special education needs to Minneapolis public schools every weekday morning. As students arrive at the elementary school where I work part time, I can't help but notice something about the autistic kids as they climb down the buses' steep steps: Almost all are Somali children.

Autism is a developmental disorder that doesn't discriminate against race or class, and it is on the rise in the United States. But in Minneapolis, the mysterious disorder appears to be zeroing in on one of the city's newest communities: First generation U.S.-born Somali-speaking children in Minneapolis schools are disproportionately identified as having autism.

"We're definitely seeing it, and something is triggering it," said Dr. Chris Bentley, director of Fraser, a nonprofit in Minneapolis that assists autistic children and their families.

Bentley is helping organize an unusual forum next month to discuss the issue. Members of the Somali community, autism advocates and officials at the state departments of health, education and human services have been invited to attend. "This is something we're looking at first in Minneapolis and then in St. Paul, but this is a much bigger issue than that," she said, suggesting that studying what's going on in the Somali community in Minneapolis may provide clues to understanding the causes of autism.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


It's the end of the month! July is gone, kaput, outta here. This can mean only one thing: It's time to report your tutoring hours for the month. Please report your hours absolutely no later than Thursday, August 7. I need to submit the report to the state the next day as that is the last day I'll be in the office prior to our three-week summer break.

Thanks for your cooperation!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notes from the field

Do you ever wonder if other tutors are having experiences similar to yours? One of the great delights of my job is reading the stories sent to me by tutors each month. This month, volunteer Jean Clark shared some of her recent experiences. Jean is pictured here, modeling a traditional Karen shirt she received as a gift from her students.--SM

The fun and learning continue--on both sides. Ma Ho, all of a sudden, decided to teach me some Karen words. Oh, have we laughed. I love it. I made sure to know many of them when I arrived today, which they got a real kick out of. I just thought that it was a sign of respect for them for me to do so. Now, we're really into it so that I can test them in English as I "say" the Karen word.

My book club (my tennis, golf buddies who are all retired teachers) is getting such a kick out of my stories that they have adopted them to give them things. When I arrive with my bags of goodies, the ladies have so much fun going through them. They make piles which, I'm sure means that they have people in mind that they will give things to. Moo Na's daughter in law is wonderful and helps me to cart things up the 4 flights of stairs. They have a car so I got a great car seat. She also needed a vacuum that I brought today from another friend. All of my friends have grandchildren so I'm pushing to get clothes and toys from them. I've gotten a lot of books for the kids from Goodwill--I get a Sr. discount and I also got them a globe--out of date, Burma is still Burma and Russia is still the USSR but it seemed to be a revelation for them to spin it between Burma and the US.

After much prodding and hand holding, Moo Na wrote her name for the very first time on an official document. She wanted to make her usual, X, but I wouldn't let her now that she is able to do it.

Ma Ho can write her name and address and can give me accurately, any amount of money that I ask for. She is so smart.

They are the dearest people. As you can imagine, the door to the apt is always open and I include everyone who walks in the door. I had a food tasting the other day---Apple, peach, plum etc. I asked Moo Na for a knife to divide everything up. She appeared with a very large machete that was very old and worn. I don't even want to know where that's been. I have extra sharp knives that I'll bring over.

I'm a part of these three families and love every minute of it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Iraqi refugees face frustration in U.S.

In case you missed it, NPR ran an interesting story this morning about an Iraqi refugee who had trouble finding work in his field--IT--until someone thousands of miles away stepped in to help. You don't need to listen to the story-you can read the text version online. Click here.

The story also has a link to another piece that aired in February and told the story of the young man who was frustrated and disappointed by his job search in this country. This article does a particularly good job of explaining some of the pressures and realities that all refugees face when they are resettled in the U.S.

These two short articles are well worth your time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Update from the crafts initiative

Sea to Sea Bike Tour--Denver Rally
Sunday, July 27
Englewood High School
3800 S. Logan St.
Englewood, Colorado

9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
and then
11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Please note that there is a one-hour church service starting at 10:30 and the booth area might not be open at that time.

The Sea To Sea Bike tour includes more than 200 bicyclists riding across the United States (and part of Canada) from Puget Sound to the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. The purpose of the tour is to raise awareness of and to inspire others to work to end the cycle of poverty locally, nationally, and globally. To learn more about the tour and its purpose, visit

A Little Something was invited to participate in this event because of our mission and commitment to empowerment through education and self-sufficiency. The rally is not a crafts fair or festival like those we normally attend; rather, it is meant to bring people together to learn about and connect with volunteer opportunities that build supportive communites and programs that contribute to ending the cycle of poverty.

Sharon (who is a former Very Serious Cyclist herself) will be wearing two hats at once and hoping it's not too hot, as she is not only the volunteer coordinator for the Colorado Refugee English as a Second Language In-Home Tutoring Program but also a member of Team A Little Something. If you're not busy next Sunday morning, stop in and maybe buy a nice necklace or a woven bag, or just chat with us about why we do what we do. Of course, if you'd like to bring a friend who might like to be a home tutor, Sharon would really like to talk to you!

Since this event will be relatively small, it would be a good time for you to come and shop with us--take your time, try things on...We hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

PBS: Darfur on Wide Angle

Wide Angle: Heart of Darfur
KBDI Channel 12, Denver
Thursday, July 17 1:30 a.m.
Sunday, July 27 7:00 p.m.
or view online (see below)

photo: National Geographic

Throughout the month of July, the PBS series, Wide Angle, is featuring a documentary about Darfur. Many stations are also running a P.O.V. documentary about Darfur, On Our Watch.

Both documentaries examine the Darfur situation, but in different ways. On Our Watch details how and why the conflict has gone mostly unaddressed by UN member nations. Be advised that the film is graphic and very disturbing. You might feel deeply disillusioned after this one, if not a little nauseated.

The current documentary, Heart of Darfur, shows what the complxity of the current situation is, why it is happening, why little has changed, and the daily dilemma faced by the UN/African Union peace keeping forces.

Both of these incredibly compelling documentaries go beyond the story of Darfur as they provide sad yet valuable insight into the troubles faced by millions of refugees around the world.

For more information or to watch the documentary online, visit the PBS Wide Angle Website. The site has an extensive collection of resources--including interviews, videos, and background reading--related to the program and the war in Darfur.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ka-BOOM!! And the rockets' red glare

Although many people welcome the joyous, thundering sound and bright flash of fireworks on the Fourth of July, these same sounds can be very unsettling for others.

Many of the people enrolled in the in-home tutoring program lived in the midst of war, surrounded by the noise of exploding ordnance. What sounds like celebratory noise making for us may bring back traumatic memories for our students.

It might be helpful if you let your student know about the fireworks ahead of time. Try to explain with pictures (and sound effects, if necessary) what will be happening and when. Most Denver-area celebrations and fireworks displays will be on Friday or Saturday night. Some are in the midst of a residential area, as is the case in Glendale. Fair warning is a very good way to put minds at ease! In my neighborhood, there aren't any professional shows, but the neighbors have been scaring the heck out of my dog with all of the premature firecrackers and illegal fireworks. The neighbors got about a two-week head-start on the holiday, and that has to be confusing for those who don't understand what's going on.

If you think your student will be OK, why not take her to see a fireworks show? What a wonderful way to share America's birthday with a newcomer!

Want to try a group?

I currently have a need for a team teacher who can work with a group of pre-literate Somali Bantu women. The class meets twice a week, but you would only teach one of those days, unless you wanted to assist the Thursday teacher.

There are currently about seven women enrolled in the class; however, due to a recent baby boom, attendance has been somewhat erratic.

Class is held in the Lincoln South public housing complex close to the light rail station at 10th Ave. at Osage St., near downtown Denver. The commitment is 2.5 hours of teaching per week, plus prep time. This is a team teaching assignment, and you must be willing to work under the direction of the lead teacher.

The volunteer in this position must be female. It would be most helpful if you have experience working with very low-level learners. Call Sharon at 720-423-4843 if you would like more information about the class.

Friday, June 27, 2008


A big thank you to James Horan and Anders Snyder of Lutheran Family Services Refugee and Asylee programs and to Margaret Htoo, formerly of Mae La camp, for their excellent presentations at the in-service training last night.

James did an outstanding job of explaining the latest developments in refugee resettlement, particularly regarding the events in Nepal/Bhutan and Iraq. Anders's slide show helped the group get an idea of the situation on the Burma-Thailand border. These compelling images also illustrated Margaret's personal perspective on the life of the Karen people.

Thanks to the volunteers and Emily Griffith staff who took the time to hear this incredibly interesting and helpful presentation. Although the group in attendance was very small, interest and participation were notably high!

CNN explains Mae La and the Karen

In case you missed it, CNN recently put up a great Website about the Karen in Mae La Camp in Thailand. Click here to access the story. This information might be of interest to anyone who wonders “Who are the Karen and why are they here?”

The site includes:
  • A news story
  • Three videos
  • A slideshow (with Karen folk singing—you might want to start with the volume on “low.”
  • An “explainer” with maps and statistical information
  • Historical backgrounder on the plight of the Karen people

  • You can navigate using the red tabs just above the story, or the embedded links within the story itself. Each section is fairly short, so there isn’t too much information to overwhelm you. This is very informative, accessible, and interesting!

    A handy map of Burmese camps

    If your student is from Burma, you might find it helpful to have a map of the Burmese-Thai border. UNHCR has produced a map showing the location of all of the UNHCR camps where Burmese refugees are currently housed. Most of Denver's Burmese are coming from Mae La camp, close to the city of Mae Sot.

    You can access the map by clicking here. It prints very nicely in color.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Fill your head with knowledge!

    Mark your calendar!

    Thursday, June 26
    6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
    Inservice Training for CRESL Home tutors
    Emily Griffith opportunity School
    1250 Welton St.

    Topic: Who's coming to Denver?

    New Expected and Arriving Refugee Populations 2008-2009

    Presenters: James Horan, director, and Anders Snyder, community Outreach Coordinator, Lutheran Family Services' Refugee and Asylee Programs in Denver

    Join us for the evening and learn about the newest refugee groups coming to Colorado. Where are they from? What is their history? What lead to their refugee situation?

    James and Anders have extensive experience working the front lines of refugee resettlement in Denver. Anders spent some time in a Burmese camp in Thailand. James is among the first in Colorado to receive new and updated information about the refugee populations in our state. There will be ample time allowed for your questions!

    Tentatively scheduled: An additional presentation about the Burmese Karen, their culture and life as refugees in Thailand and in the U.S.

    If you would like to attend this informative evening, please RSVP to Sharon at

    The Girl Effect

    I invite you to share in a five-minute food-for-thought snack. You'll feel a sense of fullness you didn't expect. I encourage you to also click on the two orange links at the bottom of the presentation screen: About and Fact Sheet, as well as any other links that appear.

    After the initial presentation, not the "Learn, Change, Share" logo on the upper left side of the screen. Please click on the words for more information and some insightful videos. If you can't see anything in this post, go to

    As a participant in a program that has a huge stake in the education of women, I hope that you find inspiration in this short presentation (about two minutes).

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Beds, pillows, sheets, etc.

    The influx of refugees being resettled in the U.S. has increased quite a bit recently. The resettlement agencies are really in need of furnishings for the refugees' apartments. today I received this message from Genevieve Cruz at Ecumenical Refugee Service. If you can help, please contact Ecumenical directly:

    Please help me spread the word to our friends and family that the Ecumenical Refugee & Immigration Services is in desperate need of single beds, bunk-beds, pillows and bedding. We have a high volume of single people coming over the next few months. We originally were not a site that handled single refugees, but more and more we're asked by our government to take them, especially from Burma and Iraq.

    If you are in a position to help, please contact our donations coordinator, Joyce Hanson at 303-860-0128, ext 130. Leave a name and phone number for a scheduled pickup (we'll come and get it!). All donations are tax deductible!

    Thanks again and take care,

    Genevieve Cruz/ERIS
    Director or Sponsorship & Development
    Volunteer/Internship Coordinator
    303-860-0128 x112

    Wednesday, June 4, 2008

    Don't forget!!!

    It is time to report your tutoring hours for the month of May. Please don't forget! I need to know your hours absolutely no later than Friday, June 6 at noon.

    Email is fine! Just to reiterate: I can count any actual contact time you had with your student (including telephone time), but not your planning or travel time.

    Your target time should be a minimum of 8 hours of contact time per month! If your student has been cancelling a lot of your scheduled lessons, please let me know. The students know that they, too, are required to put in some time and effort.

    As always, thanks so much for the wonderful work you do! I look forward to receiving your email messages in the next few days.


    Events: World Refugee Day & UN Day Against Torture

    Click picture to enlarge

    What is World Refugee Day?
    The United Nations General Assembly designated June 20 as World Refugee Day as a way to recognize and celebrate the contribution of refugees throughout the world. World Refugee Day is an annual commemoration marked by events in over a hundred countries. This year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will commemorate World Refugee Day with the inspirational theme: “To Feel at Home,” to draw the public’s attention to the millions of refugees worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes. Click here to go to the official site.

    UN Day Against Torture
    Rehabilitation centers and programs and human rights organizations around the world celebrate the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26. The day reminds us that torture is a crime and provides us with an opportunity to stand united and voice our opinion against torture, a cruel violation of human rights.

    The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has selected “Help us erase torture” as the theme of the 2008 global campaign. The goal is to encourage all people to think of actions that they and others can take to eradicate the man-made scourge of torture from our world.

    The IRCT has also published a photo book (also available as a slideshow online) as part of the 2008 day of commemoration. You can access the slideshow via the Website, or click here to see the book.

    Encouraging healthy habits!

    One issue that frequently comes up in this program is the need for nutrition education among refugees. When someone has spent years "doing without," the vast array of food in supermarkets here can be overwhelming. There is also a strong tendency to buy foods that are advertised on TV, junk food, and foods with a lot of sugar. Heart disease and diabetes are just two of the health conditions that are soaring among the resettled refugee populations in the Untied States.

    The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has published a nutrition education toolkit that is specifically targeted to the refugee population. The language is simple, the illustrations reflect the population served, and everything in it can be used to teach your food-related lessons! Did I mention it's free?

    The materials come in many languages, so if your student is literate, you could work with the materials in English and then provide a translated copy for the student to use at home. Some of the languages available are: Arabic, Amharic, Burmese, Karen, Farsi, French, Kirundi, Somali, Swahili, Russian, Vietnamese. There is even a 16"x20" poster you can reduce to 8"x10" so it will fit on regular paper. The poster shows what a balanced diet looks like.

    Other materials (and they are fabulous!) include an eight-page brochure outlining different aspects of healthy eating, the poster, and a flipchart book for teachers to use. You could easily print out the flip book, three-hole punch it, put it in a binder and use it as a teaching tool. The link to download the flip book is right under the picture of it.

    To see and download any of the materials, click here.

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    First wife, second wife, third wife...

    From National Public Radio's All things Considered...An engaging story about Muslim polygamy in America. The story looks at this religious and cultural practice among immigrants--mostly African--who know it is not allowed in the U.S., but for a variety of practical and personal reasons, continue to live in plural marriage.

    Several in-home tutors have inquired about this topic after realizing that his or her student was one of several wives sharing a husband. Yes, the practice does continue after families resettle in the United States. To find out why and what the women think about it, check out the NPR story by clicking here. The story is available in text format or click the icon on the page to listen.

    The New York Times ran a story about African immigrant polygamists last year. You can read it online here.

    What you don't know about your brain

    When you attended training to be a volunteer in this program, there was a brief discussion about the mechanics of the brain as they relate to learning. There is a new book out--for the layperson, not the medical professional--about understanding the brain's function. The book, which takes you on a guided tour of your brain, also debunks some popular myths about brain function (the 10% rule, for example). Welcome to Your Brain: Why You Lose Your Car Keys but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wong was reviewed on National Public Radio earlier this week.

    For a glimpse at some of the brain facts you probably didn't know, listen to the NPR interview by clicking here. It is just under four minutes long and well worth your time. If you're not inclined to listen to the authors' interview, at least munch on this very relevant bit of information that wraps up the story: "Two study sessions with a break between them is twice as effective as a single study session of the same total length."

    For the Job Hunters...

    Spring Institute is seeking an enthusiastic and outgoing person willing to become “the keeper of the details” and help coordinate their Community ESL program. Please see the attached job announcement for Community ESL Program Coordinator & Lead Teacher at Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning.

    This position is directly available. Please send targeted resume by June 13, 2008 to: Chris Tombari, Director of Language Services (1610 Emerson Street, Denver, Colorado 80218;; Tel: 303-863-0188; Fax: 303-863-0178).

    For the job description, please click here.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    Catching up--in Karen!

    If you are working with a Karen student from Burma, there are some materials available online that may be of interest to you. These books, dictionaries and newsletters are all downloadable--most are free. Almost everything is in Karen; few things have been translated. (The Karen Proverbs book has been translated and it is a lot of fun!).

    There is a selection of articles and short publications for adults, as well as a collection of children's stories and newsletters. You won't understand it, but if your student has been itching to read something in her own language--or wishing her kids could--this is the place you've been looking for.

    Also worth noting, on the left side of the screen, there are downloadable Karen fonts and a Karen keyboard layout for anyone who has a computer but wishes to write in Karen and not English.

    For the downloadable materials, go to Drum Publications. To learn more about Drum Publications and their mission, click here.

    Want to learn a little Karen language? This part of the Website teaches basic phrases and it uses sound. Enjoy!

    Tuesday, May 27, 2008

    Update on Aung San Suu Kyi

    On May 26, 2008, the ruling military Junta in Myanmar declared that democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi is to continue being held under house arrest for at least another year. The Nobel Peace Prize winner's current detention has been in place since May 30, 2003. By further detaining Suu Kyi, the Myanmar junta has violated its own law limiting detention in the form of house arrest to no more than five years.

    For more information on this story, click here.
    (photo copyright 2008 Associated Press)