Job Class Works
Focused Education Helps Refugees Succeed

Until 2008, Heih Nawl and his family were simple farmers in the Chin state of Burma, but it was hard work.  He dropped out of school after the second grade in order to help on the family rice paddy where they grew just enough food to survive and a little extra to sell at local markets.

But hard work and hunger were compounded by the war raging through his country. Rebels in Burma have been locked in a civil war with the government for decades. They hide in the hilly forests of the Chin state, but the Burmese Army goes into the mountains to hunt them down. Many times, soldiers passed through Heih Nawl’s village and killed their livestock for food. They forced him and other villagers to carry weapons and supplies into the mountains, guarding them at gunpoint to be sure they would not escape.

“Burma is controlled by the military,” says Heih Nawl, with some help from an interpreter. “They controlled our farms. They controlled our families. They controlled everything.”

In 2007, Heih Nawl married Ngun Thlai, but he knew that they could not raise a family in this dangerous environment. One night, when the soldiers in his village were distracted, Heih Nawl made his escape and traveled almost 2,000 miles to Malaysia, moving mostly at night to avoid detection.  There he moved in with fellow Burmese refugees in a small, over-crowded apartment. He was forced to live in the shadows since, without a visa, he could have been deported back to Burma. Unable to work openly, he nonetheless was able to earn a little money to support his wife, so she made the perilous journey to join him in Malaysia.

On learning the location of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office, he immediately went to apply for refugee status. He hoped to be approved to move to a country where he and his wife could begin a new life together – maybe even the United States where some of his relatives had resettled!  Finally, in 2015 – almost six years after they applied with UNHCR – Heih Nawl and his wife, along with their son, were approved to resettle in the U.S., in a place called Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

When the young family landed at O’Hare Airport in February 2016, Heih Nawl didn’t know any English, and had no employment experience here in the U.S. He did not know how to find a job to support his family. Thankfully for him, World Relief DuPage/Aurora’s (WRDA) innovative, six-week, Job Readiness ESL class is designed specifically to help refugees like him prepare for his first job in the U.S. So after a few short weeks of getting settled in Glen Ellyn, Heih Nawl enrolled in the Job Readiness ESL Class – known as “Job Class.”  On his first day of class, he was nervous. He hadn’t been in a classroom in almost 20 years!

“On his first day,” says Krista Jacques, Heih Nawl’s Job Class teacher, “I asked him his name, and he would just smile back at me. I asked him where he was from, and he would just smile back at me. He was very, very quiet.”

Job Class, which is made possible through the support of private donors and the dedication of many volunteers, is designed to help people like Heih Nawl succeed. For 4.5 hours, four days a week, the class covers the general English, job search and work retention skills that newly arrived refugees need. The rotating curriculum allows new students to start class on any given Monday and complete all six instructional modules: Personal Information, Money and Finance, Time and Schedules, Location and Directions, Health and Hygiene, and Safety and Emergencies. Students practice interviewing, calling in sick, leaving voicemails, and many other tangible skills that may be foreign to them. In each class, volunteer classroom aides patiently work side-by-side with students like Heih Nawl.

“No one is going to master the English language in Job Class,” says Krista, “but they can learn enough to start having conversations with people at work and in the community. This opens up a whole new world of language learning for them.”

For his first few weeks of class, Heih Nawl was still too unsure of his language skills to answer questions. But during his fifth week of class, eight new Burmese refugees started the course. On the new students’ first day, Krista asked Heih Nawl to teach them how to clock in for class – one of the many job-related skills that are mimicked in the classroom – and he instantly became a classroom leader. He translated for new students, explained concepts and routines to them, and helped lead field trips to the Wheaton Library and Feed My Starving Children. This role gave him confidence, and also helped him improve his English, leading to his exit test showing a five-fold improvement in his English ability over his entrance evaluation pre-test score!

While enrolled in Job Class, Heih Nawl also met with Allison Jensen, a WRDA Employment Specialist. Allison reviewed Heih Nawl’s work history and helped him write his first resume. In April, barely 3 months after arriving in the U.S., he landed a job in a local manufacturing company. Heih Nawl is grateful to have this stable, secure job, and he hopes to make a career at the company.

“I use everything I learned in Job Class,” says Heih Nawl with a big smile. “I was not even nervous for my first day at AJR [his employer], because Job Class helped me to prepare so well.”

Today, thanks to the donors, volunteers, and companies who partner with World Relief, Heih Nawl and his family have a bright future as they build a new, hopeful and safe life some 8,000 miles away from the suffering they endured.

New Grant Matches Dollar for Dollar
Help Meet the $20,000 Challenge

A local private foundation has issued WRDA a challenge, and we need your help to meet it.  Because this foundation believes that work provides personal dignity as well as financial stability for refugee families, they want to invest in WRDA’s job readiness classes and employment support services.  If we are able to raise $20,000 in qualifying donations*, the foundation will match those gifts dollar for dollar! Thanks to the generosity of some new donors, we are on our way to meeting this goal, but we need your help as well.  Please consider making a gift in one of these two ways:

  1. Donate online at www.worldreliefdupageaurora.org/donate and write “Job Class Matching Grant” in the comments section on the giving page, or
  2. Mail a check made out to “World Relief DuPage/Aurora” with “Job Class” in the memo line.

Thank you for your generosity! If you have any questions, contact Tim Kustusch at tkustusch@wr.org or 630-580-5083.

*Qualifying donations are gifts from new donors or donors who have not contributed in the last 2 years in order to expand the base of people in our community contributing to the work of WRDA and the economic stability of our new neighbors.

World Refugee Day 2016
Local Ways to Celebrate

In 2000 the United Nations designated June 20 as World Refugee Day in order to focus the world’s attention on the plight of people forced to flee from their homes in search of safety.  This year the world’s refugee crisis is at an all-time high, making this day more important than ever.  WRDA is marking the day with two events, and we invite you to join us.

Kneel 2 Stand, Saturday, June 18 from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m.
First Presbyterian Church
339 4th Street, Downers Grove, IL

WRDA is launching Kneel 2 Stand to encourage times of prayer and calling on God as churches and communities come together to Stand/for the Vulnerable.  On the Saturday before World Refugee Day we will gather to pray for refugees in our community and in our world.  A light breakfast will be served followed by a time of prayer.  To help us prepare for this event, an RSVP is appreciated if you can join us.  You can respond online at:  worldreliefdupageaurora.org/K2S.  If you are unable to join us in person, please consider joining us in prayer.

Spotlight on World Refugee Day, Monday, June 20th, 7-8:30 pm
Nature’s Best Café
1904 Brookdale Rd, Naperville, IL

To better understand the violence and persecution that drive people from their homes, join World Relief DuPage/Aurora to hear directly from three people who fled their home countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and now live in the suburbs of Chicago. They will share about the struggles and opportunities of resettlement in the United States.  Doors open at 6:30 and food and beverages will be available for purchase during the event.

Savings for Life
Economic Development “Here” and “There”

World Relief helps refugee families in the U.S. reach stability and self-sufficiency by preparing them for success in the U.S. labor force.  Likewise, World Relief is helping people around the world have the dignity of work and the ability to care for their families.  One way this is done in Rwanda is through the Savings for Life program.

This is Mparayonzi Jean hard at work fishing in his native country of Rwanda. He is an entrepreneur and is able to earn a living because he is a member in a local group that is part of World Relief’s Savings for Life (SFL) program.  In Rwanda, the groups are known as VAMUBUKENE. Jean managed to buy a boat for 50,000 Rwandan Francs (FR) after getting 60,000FR as a loan from the group. To have all the materials and equipment needed for fishing, he managed to raise an additional 40,000FR on his own and bought a “filet,” which is used to catch the fish. Jean is married and he and his wife have four children.  With his business, he now is able to provide for his family, even though they live in the remote village of Taba. He said, “I was isolated from my fellow men because I had no job and it was hard to feed my children, but now I am earning 3500FR per day and I have a happy family”.

World Relief’s Savings for Life™ (SFL) programs empower the most vulnerable in communities that lack access to even the most basic financial services.   World Relief equips local community trainers to mobilize and train savings groups, SFL creates access for the poor to safe and reliable savings services and appropriately sized loans.  Savings helps the world’s poorest – who have shown tremendous capacity and willingness to save – to build and protect their financial assets in climates where financial institutions cannot serve them.