Gopika, Maguire Fellow in Austin and London

Gopika is a senior majoring in economics and political science in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. She was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship for summer 2014 from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She has internships with Refugee Services of Texas in Austin and Stop the Traffik in London.

Read more from Gopika, Maguire Fellow in Austin and London

Are we there yet?

Time has flown by and summer has almost come to an end. This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend ten weeks volunteering with Refugee Services of Texas in Austin (RST). Getting to work with people from all around the world and helping them settle into their new lifestyle here in Texas was an amazing experience. During my time with RST, I was able to help RST clients with mapping and exploring the Austin area.

Refugee Services of Texas is an organization that assists refugees, asylees, and survivors of trafficking with settling in their new home and learning about the area. Currently RST has five branches in Texas located in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston. Refugee Services of Texas provides their clients ESL classes, medical clinic checkups, bus orientations, and the opportunity to explore the area. With many clients from around the world, and five locations, RST is constantly in need of volunteers to help them accomplish the many services they provide.

During my time with RST, I was able to work with many of RST’s clients from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Burma, Nepal, and Cuba. I was able to show many clients around Austin, but most importantly I was able to show them how to use the bus system in their area. My task for the summer was to assist clients with bus orientation.

Bus orientation entails assisting clients with understanding Austin’s Capitol Metro Bus System to help them travel from their home to their ESL classes, the clinic, or anywhere else they might want to go. At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t think I would get to learn as much as I did through something like bus orientation. Sitting on a bus with a client (and their family sometimes), and showing them to their destination doesn’t seem like much interaction. However, in the three to four hours for the entire journey – from their home to wherever we were going, it was such an eye-opening experience.

Many of the clients I worked with didn’t speak fluent English, but with some broken words, games of charades, and of course Google Translate, we were able to communicate. From many of the clients I worked with, I got to learn what life was like for them and what living situations are like in many of the countries they left. Clients who come from various countries are not only refugees, but some are refugees who have been trafficked from another country, or are seeking asylum, or any combination of the three.

However, the one thing they all have in common is hope. Hope for a better life – for themselves, their families, their children. Many of the people that are here in Texas who are seeking refuge or asylum have been through unimaginable situations – all to feel safe, to see a future for them and their family, a place to call home.

Never knowing the answer to “are we there yet” or knowing where “there” is, is a frustrating feeling. Going somewhere, but not knowing where you’re going, is something that is not only hard to explain, but also to understand. Refugee Services of Texas does a great job in helping these families find the answer, helping them settle into a safe place they can call home. I am privileged to have volunteered with such a great organization. I have learned so much and had such a wonderful experience. I hope to volunteer with RST again. My last stop is in London, to work with Stop the Traffik – I hope to have as great of an experience with them as I did with RST!

Share this story:

    About Sarah Hanan

    EA-PubAffairs(Periodicals)
    This entry was posted in Gopika, Maguire Fellow in Austin and London and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.