“One of those adolescents now works at the Lineberger Cancer Center, one graduated with a degree in IT and one got a degree in Chemistry from UNC and is now a researcher there,” said Bateman. “When they got here they were saying that they weren’t going to go to college. I told them that it wasn’t a matter of if, but where, and where they could get the money.”
The Refugee Support Center offers English as a Second Language classes and assistance with job placement to help resettled refugees integrate smoothly into society. But one of their most successful programs has been offering preparation for federal naturalization tests.
“Everyone who has regularly attended classes has passed their citizenship test,” Bateman said.
“With determination, help with access to information and a lot of luck, refugees can achieve the American dream,” Bateman said.
Across town, Meagan Clawar is the program director for Refugee Community Partnership, a non-profit aiming to minimize the linguistic and cultural barriers to health care access for refugee families by partnering with residents through their Bridge Builder program.
“We have 70 refugee families partnered with volunteers," Clawar said. "The families and volunteers work on goals that the family identifies. It’s really a pretty holistic approach to providing services.”
Clawar said language is one of the major barriers to refugee health care.
“Communicating with someone over the phone about something very personal like your health can be frustrating,” Clawar said. “You aren’t provided with a telephonic interpreter until you are actually in the exam room, so they often have to navigate check-in and any paperwork on their own.”
While many refugees from Burma natively speak a language known as “Karen,” many doctor providers mistakenly hear this as “Korean." In this situation, a refugee parent who speaks Karen is trying to communicate with an English-speaking doctor through a translator who speaks Korean.
“I've had a call from a family saying, ‘The baby is really sick; she needs to go to the hospital.’ So, I went with them, and we waited through triage and went through the process with them.”
In addition to assistance in accessing health services, the Refugee Community Partnership provides tutorials on how to use public transit, preparation for citizenship exams, and educational tutoring.
The county provides similar services to recently resettled refugees. Susan Clifford, the immigrant and refugee health program manager at the Orange County Health Department, highlighted in an email some public health concerns that may not always make the headlines.
“Based on feedback from the last community health assessment and input from Orange County Refugee Health Coalition partners, the main issues continue to be mental health, access to health care and issues related to social determinants of health, such as housing, food-security and employment,” Clifford said in an email.
Despite local non-profits being created out of an apparent need from refugees, Clifford maintains that the state of refugee support services is strong.
“Orange County’s refugee population is diverse and resilient,” Clifford said. “We often think about what is lacking, but we also need to focus on the incredible strength, resourcefulness and rich skills and values brought to Orange County by our newest neighbors.”