When a refugee first arrives in Alaska, their travels may be over, but they still have a hard journey ahead of them. Over the next several years, they will go through the resettlement process—adjusting to the culture and the cold environment, learning language and job skills, applying for citizenship, and figuring out what their new future will look like.
That is why, beyond helping refugees get to Alaska, much of RAIS’s work involves arranging housing, providing education, legal help, and job training.
For the better part of a decade, the same small group of volunteers have taught job readiness classes for newly arrived refugees, providing everything from language tutoring to advice on navigating cultural differences, and even tutoring to prepare for the rigorous American citizenship test.
In normal years, each teacher prepared and led classes once a week in person. But when COVID hit and in-person events were no longer possible, classes were temporarily put on hold until Issa, the Program Director at RAIS, secured a grant to provide Chromebooks and internet access to all refugee clients who needed them.
After years of teaching in person, teaching virtually took some getting used to for the teachers. Zori, RAIS’s Education Coordinator spent hours teaching the teachers about how to operate a virtual classroom, and they all adapted to the new way of learning.
Although it’s different from how things used to be, teaching virtually expanded the teachers’ capacity and grew the number of students able to learn from them. Since the teachers no longer have to commute to meet their students, several of them decided to start teaching multiple classes a week so they can spend more time working with each student. For the students, learning virtually has made it easier to take classes while also taking care of their kids, and allows them to learn remotely from as far away as Delta Junction.
The teachers and their students share a warm connection—they spend hours with each other, become invested in each other’s families. One student family even bought sunflowers for their teacher during the lockdowns and left it on their doorstep to add some brightness to their day.
We are proud of our refugee clients, the journey they have taken, and the way they are integrating into a new culture. And we are immensely thankful for our teachers, whether they work virtually or in-person. We could never do any of this without you.
Read about one of our incredible volunteer teachers, Cindy Johnson, who has been helping refugees prepare and pass the American citizenship test for years: