I’ve been working with refugee families and children for nearly five years now, and the hardest thing for me to see is when a gifted refugee child gives up on school or college.
This happens when a child or his or her family is simply overwhelmed by the staggering difficulties of being a refugee in America in 2021,
It’s hard for most people to imagine how difficult a process this acclimation can be for kids who arrive straight out of hell. There are language issues, social issues, financial issues, working issues, health issues, trauma issues.
One of my proudest accomplishments these past few years has been getting eight gifted refugee children out of difficult situations into excellent private schools with full tuition grants.
All eight are doing well. Two are graduating this year.
I am having a difficult and honest and painful discussion with a young woman who is a student at a school in the Albany area. She wants to leave school, abandon her plans – and the school’s wish – that she go to college, get a job anywhere she can, and get her own apartment.
She asked me for financial help in getting an apartment on her own.
She has a number of issues with her family, is living in close quarters, and while the school is certain they can to get her a full scholarship at a good school – a community college at first, including a free dorm, meals, and all expenses covered – she is determined, she says, to move along right now and get her own place.
She’s had a dozen meetings with teachers and school officials. They are urging her to stay. She is very close to graduating.
But life is difficult for her. The English language issues are too difficult, her family situation is too tense, the financial realities too pressing.
She yearns to be independent, and live her own life. Years in refugee camps will do that for you.
I am ready to help her, the school is ready to help her, she has a mentor willing to help her. But I don’t want to pay for her to leave school. I’ve seen the results of that too often.
I think it’s unethical for me to enable that.
All of us have too often seen the holes some of these very needy children – and adults – fall into in America, and can’t get out of.
Fast food jobs don’t pay living wages, and these kids who abandon school so often fall into debt and can’t catch up. I’ve left more than one crowded apartment in tears.
America is not an easy or simple – or inexpensive – place to live in right now. I am very fond of this student, she writes beautifully and is independent and strong-willed. We talk to one another often, she’s interested in writing.
She’s been through more than any child should endure.
I have helped her and her family before and she has asked me again for some help. I am not comfortable helping her if she abandons college or has no way of paying for her independent life. That is not an easy decision.
I’ve seen the consequences of that too often, and it’s my duty to make sure the money I offer goes where it can do the most good.
I know a score of refugee children who would cut off a finger to get to college. But I have no wish or intention to pressure this very gifted child. It is her life. And I haven’t given up – neither has Bishop Maginn. It’s not going to be simple or easy.
The refugees who make it get to a trade school, community college, or four-year university. In America, that’s where options come from. I’ve seen these people and families struggle so hard to get free of debts and obligations.
It is hard. There isn’t enough money in the world to give all these good people the help they deserve.
Often, I have to be the “no” man. It isn’t fun. It’s much more fun to say yes.
Otherwise, too many refugees end up cleaning hotel rooms and mopping hospital floors for all of their working lives. Or working at McDonald’s. The lucky ones get to Amazon Warehouses, they pay $20 an hour and get help with tuition.
C— keeps saying people want to control her, that’s not my interest. No one controls me, I don’t control anyone else.
My feeling is she needs time to figure things out. For now, we are at a standoff.
Below is our exchange this morning. I am not comfortable using her name or the name of the school for good reasons.
“Jon: I’m just going, to be honest, and straight and forward I appreciate you guys trying to look out for me and give me some options that u think are good for me but all my life I’ve been controlled by everyone and everybody. I want to make my own choices for once and I’m sorry but college is not going to be good for me because I know myself I will fail. I tried so hard to accept the fact that yeah maybe I should try college but every time I think about it, it doesn’t make me happy it’s not where I want to go. When I asked for help from u I don’t want u to think I’m begging you or anything because I was never the person to beg for help people always offered to help me and if you can’t help me unless I go to college that’s totally fine and I’m not going to work my whole life in fast food.
I’m going to work at fast food just to save money for a car so I can get a better job and right now for me it’s all about surviving yeah maybe I am impatient it’s because my whole life I’ve been going through a lot u might not get where I’m coming from and that’s okay I had a roommate …but she doesn’t want to move out anymore she made so many promises to me and just gave up on me the last minute. People never stay by my side so I have to do this by myself and that’s okay because I will be something big in life one day and I believe in myself and that’s why I want to move out so desperately I want to start all over again I hope u understand where I’m coming from again thank you.”
This is my reply:
“C—-, thanks for the message. You are certainly no beggar, but you did ask me for help, and like you, I believe in being honest. I’m afraid when people ask me for help I have to ask questions and make decisions.
I can assure you that I have no desire to control you, it’s not what I do, nor do I let anybody control me. My wish for you is that you make your own decisions all through your life, I think that is what we all want for you.