By ILONA BRAY
June 20th is World Refugee Day, when we remember the millions who have been forced by war or persecution to flee their home countries. But Emily Helen Holland is reminded every day of how tough being a refugee can be. She’s a case manager at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Seattle, Washington. The minute refugees arrive at Seattle/Tacoma airport—mostly from Burma, Iraq, Somalia or Eritrea—Emily’s there to pick them up and help them get settled.
IndyKids: How did you get interested in working with refugees?
Emily Helen Holland: In high school, I tutored non-English speakers and loved reading about other cultures. After college, I signed up with the IRC as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer, and it turned into a paid job.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Everyday surprises, like the teenager from Bhutan who arrived with failing kidneys and needed a hospital—fast. And teaching people financial stuff, such as the importance of saving some of their paycheck for things like rent, rather than spending it right away.
What’s the best part of your job?
Even small progress, like when a client’s English improves, warms my heart. It shows motivation and hope, which many lose during their years in a [refugee] camp.
What’s the biggest misunderstanding people in the United States have about refugees?
That coming here is their dream come true. They’re happy to have gotten to safety, but if it weren’t too dangerous, they’d rather be in the countries where they were born. Settling in the United States can be scary!
Any tips for kids interested in working with refugees?
If you can live in another country, definitely do it. Also, get to know kids from other countries or volunteer to tutor them in English, so both of you can learn and share experiences.