Panel Discussion

Every semester before our Table Talk program begins, we offer a training opportunity for our new volunteers. We focus on offering new cultural insight and explaining how to communicate with English learners. This time we did things a little differently.

We wanted to give our team a chance to hear directly from local refugee leaders. We wanted to give those leaders a chance to speak for themselves! So we invited friends from Somalia, Burma, and South Sudan to sit down for a panel discussion about their cultures, languages, hopes and frustrations. Below we share paraphrases of some interesting comments on that memorable evening!

This project is not about what we bring to the table, but about the wealth of culture and knowledge our immigrant neighbors bring to the table. We hope you will join us in our pursuit to give them a platform to share, to teach, and to lead.

What is something that your community wants to ensure is passed on to their children? What are you worried will be lost?

We are afraid that our children won’t learn our own language. We always talk about how we can help them learn our languages, our stories, our cultures.

How many languages do you speak? How did you learn English?

Chin, several local dialects, Burmese, and English. I learned English at divinity school in the Philippines.

What is something that Somali people are very good at?

We are not afraid. We’re not afraid to take risks, to move to a new place for an opportunity, to start new businesses… We are entrepreneurial because we’re not afraid.

What is the biggest mistake Americans make when they are trying to help refugee families?

I can’t think of what to say personally, but I wish the government would give less help. Our people become dependent on welfare and forget how to work. This does more harm than good for them. I am proud that I have never taken a dollar.

Are there any questions you wish people would not ask you so much?

I wish people didn’t ask so many personal questions right away. I don’t meet a stranger from my own country and ask such invasive questions.

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