Very Frequently Asked Questions about Refugees and Those of Us Working with Them


Photo courtesy of theunquietlibrarian via flickr.

Photo courtesy of theunquietlibrarian via flickr.


When you’ve been working with refugees for a few years, as I have, you find that there are some basic questions that keep coming up. Below are some creative—yet still accurate—ways I can think of to answer the most commonly asked questions.

Who are immigrants and refugees? What’s the difference between the two terms?

Your best friend who happened to move to the U.S. for that coveted nanny job is an immigrant. Your other best friend who got shot, ran for her life, was separated from her family, walked 1,000 miles, lived in a camp, went through a long involved interview process, took a plane flight to the U.S. that she’s still paying back, learned English, and got that other coveted nanny job is a refugee. See the difference?   

How can I volunteer to work with refugees and immigrants?

ESL CLASSROOM AIDES: Ever want to teach English but without having to deal with rowdy high schoolers? Now you can! ESL aides help in classrooms to teach adults English—no high schoolers in sight! Your adult students will love seeing your acting skills as you show what you mean by the term “jumping jacks” and your lovely singing voice belting out “The Hokey Pokey.” Looks who’s the rowdy one now!     

MENTORING PROGRAM: Are all your friends boring? Become friends with a newly-arrived refugee family! They’ll be interesting, I promise. Try some of the family’s ugali and share some of your pizza. Trade languages. Take the family bowling or to the zoo to feed crackers to a giraffe for the first time in their lives. See this post to get a better feel of how fun mentoring can be.

You can also come to our annual event, see if we need help moving new families into apartments, donate or sort household items, do craft projects, or care for children.

What services does LSS provide to refugee families once they arrive in the U.S.?

LSS basically wants to make sure that families can take care of themselves ASAP. Bill paying tops that list, but to get a job to pay those bills, people need a house, health care, food on the table, interpreters, lawyers, English education, other fun education (orientation, cooking, how to measure stuff NOT using the self-explanatory metric system, etc.), and THEN they might be able to take advantage of our employment services to get a job. We have lovely staff working with refugee clients on all these things at our office.

What refugee people groups are represented Sioux Falls?

Bhutanese (through refugee camps in Nepal), Karen and Karen Ni people from Burma, Eritreans, Iraqis, Ethiopians, Somalis, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Congolese (DRC) . . . plus  various other countries.       

THAT’S SO COOL! Is there a way to volunteer with y’all at LSS?

Yup. You can always mentor or help in our English classes as an aide. Maybe you can also move new families into apartments, collect or sort donations, help fund raise, do crafts, or child care. More descriptions of those are above. You must be eager.

Are y’all a welfare agency?

No. We’re actually set up to be a tough-love agency. The vast majority of clients only get a small amount of financial aid for eight months max.

–Little English? Get a job in eight months!

–Just got done running for your life and would like a break? Get a job in eight months!

–No car? Get a job in eight months!

The overarching goal is always self-sufficiency ASAP. 

Are refugees, like, friendly?


Is there anything I can do to help?

Wow, you really are asking this question pretty frequently. Why don’t you just contact our office and we can talk about it at (605) 731-2000 or sign up through our Web site?

You’re also invited to our annual Taste of Cultures event which should be a good time. Tickets on sale now—call 731-2000 to reserve.  

You can also make a financial gift to LSS today.

Or if you have more questions, you can always call (605) 731-2000. (Notice this “calling our office” theme? I’m not kidding.)


Post by Amy S.Z.

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