Working with refugees through Omaha’s Benson Area Refugee Task Force, I get to be inspired every day. Our task force extends extra support to refugees being resettled to Omaha, Neb., many of them by Church World Service.
Many of the refugees work more than 40 hours a week, have three or more children, and attend various classes. They say moving to the United States is like being born again. Everything from riding in a moving vehicle to managing a bank account is new, and feels overwhelming.
Yet, refugees from all different countries are resilient. They find joy and humor in all the different corners of life.
Part of my job involves teaching computer and U.S. citizenship classes. After completing 22 hours of computer instruction, graduates of my class can buy a computer from the task force for just $20. Our first graduate uses her computer to improve her English and communicate by email with her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. In addition, she and her husband researched housing options on the internet and are buying their first house.
The 90-minute citizenship class draws up to 20 students each Thursday night. The lead instructor is an attorney with extensive experience in immigration law.
Several of our students have taken the citizenship exam, and so far everyone has passed. One of them, a mother of two, has begun working full time for Omaha Public Schools, really helping her family economically.
Another new citizen memorized all 100 of the questions in the citizenship exam in the first week she had the study guide.
There are many practical advantages to becoming a citizen, but often a major motivator is that many refugees have never been a citizen of anywhere before.
Refugees are often persecuted ethnic minorities from their birth countries, thus never granted citizenship, and then never granted full protection by their subsequent host countries. For them, being a citizen will mean they finally have a home.
Shannon Linehan is an AmeriCorps worker with the Benson Area Refugee Task Force in Omaha, Neb. Learn more about the work of the Benson Area Refugee Task Force here.