Refugee Transitions Volunteer Newsletter November 2009
This Month's News and Resources
:: Playing Journalist--Tips from Volunteer Sarah Higginbotham
:: Complete Your Log!
:: Karenni Refugees Come to Oakland
:: Info on Flu Clinics
:: Burmese Exhibit at the Asian Art Museum
:: Resources for SF Job Seekers
:: Complete the OUSD's Online Survey
:: NYTimes Photo Essay: Bhutanese in NYC
:: Become Friends with RT on Facebook
:: Help us Support the Lomidze Family
:: Useful Resources for Tutors--Online!
:: Karen & Burmese Language Resources
:: Attention Youth Tutors: New Homework System!
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Refugee Transitions would like to thank all of our wonderful volunteers and supporters for their generous help and contributions.  Enjoy the holidays, and don't forget to share the Thanksgiving tradition with your students!

Lots of Gratitude,

The RT Team
Contact Us
Volunteer Spotlight on KHENG CHEW:
Outstanding RT Volunteer!
KhengKheng Chew has been volunteering with Refugee Transitions since April 2009, after learning about the organization from former Board Member Rahul Choraria.  However, he didn't start out via the normal route that most volunteers take.  Realizing RT's need for improved technological systems, Kheng offered his extensive IT skills and became Refugee Transitions' in-house technology intern.  Since Kheng's arrival, RT staff has exhaled a collective sigh of relief.  As a busy crew of eight individuals with limited technical expertise, RT staff have little time to fix nit-picky--yet crucial--tech concerns.  Kheng has helped us with numerous projects, including setting up a new network in our main San Francisco office, performing research on social networking sites, servicing our Oakland office computers, and trouble-shooting systemic issues.  Always eager to help (with a smile on his face), Kheng has been a reliable source of support to our organization on a weekly basis.
In addition to his work as RT's technology intern, Kheng also began volunteering as a Literacy Coach in August.  Kheng works with Guang Long He, an immigrant from China, and is helping Guang continue his education and improve his employment options.  Kheng says, "Coming from Malaysia, I've personally experienced the differences in culture and environment without having the hindrance of language.  Yet these factors alone were difficult enough to deal with.  Working with RT has given me the opportunity to hopefully ease the transitions of these refugees."
When Kheng is not fixing our printer or patiently explaining how to create desktop shortcuts, he is employed as a Senior Analyst at Cornerstone Research. We are so fortunate to have him! Thanks, Kheng!
JournalistVolunteer Story

"Playing Journalist"
 Sarah Higginbotham shares a game to help youth stay focused in hectic environments
As a tutor for 11-year-old Cecelia, one of my favorite things about my weekly visit is also one of the biggest challenges we face: her West African household is loud and often hectic, usually full of curious siblings and noisy cousins. While a welcoming and fun place to be, the constant activity makes staying on task extremely challenging. I've had  to get a bit creative at times, which is how I came up with the "journalism game."
Hectic HouseholdOn the night in question, everything was mayhem and the noise level had reached playground decibels. Cecelia was eager to use the distractions as an excuse for giving up on studying, but I wanted to show her that even in the most challenging environments it is possible to be productive. I gave Cecelia an assignment in which she could take advantage of the chaotic situation: she would be a journalist. This involved Cecelia taking a notebook and sitting in the corner to watch everyone. She took notes on everything that happened, which offered me a quick opportunity to explain a bit about note taking. I also explained the five W's of reporting: who, what, when, where, and why. I prompted her: What was happening? Who was there? What did it sound like? What did it look like? She was excited to do what seemed more like a game than real work. When she finished, I explained how notes become news stories. I shared some of my experiences from working as a reporter with her. We brainstormed possible headlines for her story and I left her with the assignment of writing a story using her notes that week.
On another similarly chaotic night, playing journalist proved helpful again. Cecelia's young family members were especially interested in participating in our study session, so I decided to have Cecelia "interview" each person. I explained the types of questions she could ask and then invited her to come up with her own questions. What are their names, ages, and grades? Where are they from? What is their favorite food? I timed each interview to keep them on task and when she was finished, we went over her notes and wrote up a summary.
I've come to understand that one of the most valuable things I can help Cecelia with is learning how to stay focused in the challenging environments she finds both at home and in the classroom. Her teachers note that she needs to improve her ability to stay focused and Cecelia shares with me that the she has trouble ignoring talkative students in class. I believe the constant level of activity at home allows us a good opportunity to practice being productive. The journalist game seemed to help Cecelia regain her sense of control and accomplishment amidst distractions. It also forced me to start thinking more creatively about how to work with distractions to be productive. 
Complete This Month's Volunteer Log!

Help us track our students' progress

By filling out your monthly logs, you help keep us abreast of the fantastic work you do. WE READ EACH AND EVERY ONE.  This is crucial for our grant reporting and our ability to support volunteers. Submit your log on our website:

The Karenni Refugees from Burma/Thailand
One of the newest refugee groups resettling to the Bay Area and other parts of the United States is the Karenni.  They face enormous challenges adapting to life here--largely due to their lack of formal education and their inability to read and write in their home language. Refugee service providers are working to help support the Karenni toward self-sufficiency. RT will be doing our part, with the help of our dedicated volunteers, to help the Karenni improve their literacy and acquire the life skills they need to take advantage of the opportunities the U.S. has to offer.  

Karenni Children

Background information on the Karenni

 From the Cultural Orientation Resource Center
The Karenni population in Thailand is comprised of some 20,000 people living in two camps in remote northwestern Thailand, in the province of Mae Hong Son. Although in many ways similar to their Karen cousins living to the south, the Karenni have their own culture, languages, and history. (For more information on the Karenni, see the Burma Culture Profile from the Center for Applied Linguistics )
In general, the Karenni refugees ... are facing resettlement to the United States with a great deal of fear and trepidation. They have heard from previously resettled refugees, or from the camp rumor mill, how difficult it can be to make the adjustment to life in the U.S., particularly for those who have no English skills. Many see their lack of education and English ability as insurmountable obstacles to getting a job, and view the future with some degree of despair. The fact that they have applied for resettlement at all given these concerns is an indication of how poor they feel their current living conditions are. There is a high expectation that the U.S. government, having accepted them for resettlement, will also accept the responsibility for taking care of them for some time after resettlement.
Read the entire report HERE
Flu Season Is Upon Us


See the links, below, for information on vaccination clinics and eligibility.

Burmese Exhibit at Asian Art Museum in SF
Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam & Burma
October 23rd-Jaunuary 10th 

Emerald Cities

 A great place to visit with your tutee and family! The museum is right near the Civic Center BART station. Email Lauren if you would like to try to arrange a larger group fieldtrip!
Description: In the 19th-century, Siam and Burma-two neighboring kingdoms in Southeast Asia-were renowned for their golden-roofed temples, lush gardens, and handsomely adorned palaces. Emerald Cities is the first major exhibition in the West to explore the rich but little known arts of Siam and Burma from this period. Many of the 140 stunning artworks-including gilded ritual vessels, mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, colorful paintings, manuscripts, exquisite textiles, delicate ceramics, and more-were recently acquired by the museum from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and are on display for the first time.

Click HERE for More info on the Exhibit
RESOURCES for SF Job Seekers from Upwardly Global!!!

Job Seeker

Upwardly Global has partnered with the City of San Francisco to offer a new program to help job seekers find jobs in their field quickly.

Does your student qualify for this program?The criteria for the program are:
  • Must be an SF Resident
  • Must have US work authorization
  • Must have a child under 18 living in the US.  
Job seekers accepted into the program will have 100% of their wages paid by the City of San Francisco for the next year, which makes them very attractive to employers.
Upwardly Global is seeing job seekers find a job in their field within a couple of weeks after starting the program.
Contact Cecily Victor at
[email protected] and
(415) 834-9901 for more information.
Please Complete the Oakland Unified School District's Online Survey

If you are working with a family with school-aged children in Oakland schools, please complete the online survey here:

OUSD Online Survey for Tutors/Mentors

By filling out this survey, you will help the OUSD and RT collect valuable data on our programs and the clients we serve.


New York Times:

Photo Essay & Narrative of Bhutanese family resettled in New York

Bhutanese in NYC 
Watch and listen to this beautiful multimedia narrative by clicking on the link below.

Know someone who wants to Volunteer?

  Image of RT friends.

If you know someone who wants to volunteer with Refugee Transitions, we are always looking for more help in the East Bay, San Francisco and the South Bay!
Send them this email, and direct them to our website at
Become Friends with RT on Facebook!

Facebook Picture

Join Refugee Transitions' online facebook community. Become our friend and get access to RT news, photos, YouTube videos, and more!
To add us as a friend, click here.
Family Tragedy:

RT Soliciting Contributions to the Lomidze Family Fund 

This August, Iliaz Lomidze, a refugee from Russia who was resettled in Oakland in 2005, was brutally killed outside his Oakland apartment in a random shooting. His wife and children are devastated at the loss, as is their extended family and the entire Meskhetian Turk Community in Oakland.  In order to provide some financial support for Iliaz's survivors during their time of need, RT has solicited donations on behalf of the family.

Please contact Laura Vaudreuil at [email protected] if you would like to contribute to the Lomidze Family Fund.
Chaperones needed for OUSD/Oakland International's Field trip to SF State!

SF State
On Friday, Nov. 20th, the 11th and 12th graders from OIHS will visit SF State to get a feel for US/California schools as part of their college readiness activities.

Can you chaperone?
Students will travel by BART from OIHS to SF State and return after lunch.
If you are interested, please contact OUSD Refugee & Asylee Student Specialist Langan Courtney.
(510) 434-7775 
Useful Resources for Your Work as an RT Tutor-ONLINE!

RT Volunteer Erinn Struss has compiled a list of helpful online resources for RT tutors.

Links include:

  • General ESL Resources, Worksheets & Games
  • Lesson Ideas
  • Podcasts/Multimedia
  • News pages with Multimedia for ESL learners
  • Websites with Student drills
  • ESL Civics Resources
  • Interview Guides
  • Resource Guides
  • Grammar Guides
Find them on our website here!

Thank you, Erinn!

Karen Language Materials--Online!
CLICK HERE to access Karen dictionaries & phrasebooks!
Burmese Dictionary--Online!

Burmese Tablet
If you work with Burmese speaking students, check out this great online resource with Burmese fonts, Burmese phrases, and an online dictionary!

Attention Youth Tutors:
NEW System for
 Homework Help!

RT is requesting that our tutors use a new system when working with youth on their homework. We recognize that there is sometimes a conflict between teaching a student the skills they need, and finishing the homework. In many cases, the homework is just too hard for our students to finish on their own. We believe that it is better to help students build the skills they need to one day be able to accomplish the homework they have, and do some of the homework, rather than racing to finish the homework. If tutors are only tutoring 1-2 days each week, that leaves a lot of unfinished homework on the days our tutors don't come.

With this in mind, we are suggesting that on difficult homework assignments, tutors work with youth to do as much of the homework that they can, focusing less on finishing and more on learning. We are then suggesting that you and the student attach a sticky note to the homework with the following information:

Volunteer Literacy Coach at Refugee Transitions
  • Name:
  • Contact info: 
  • Date helped with homework:
  • Vocabulary words/concepts taught:
  • Notes:

This system will remind teachers that they can contact you, will help students develop the basic skills they need to catch up, and will take the pressure off of finishing homework that the students really couldn't do on their own.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions about this system--
and happy learning!

Thank you, again, for all that you do to serve the immigrant and refugee populations of the Bay Area. You are the heart and soul of what we do!

Lauren, Laura, Tenley, ZarNi, Grace, Elsa, Nandi, Julia, Nakachi and Christina
(The Refugee Transitions Team)