SYRIAN WELLBEING INITIATIVE
In 2016 and 2017, San Diego County received the largest number of Syrian refugees; more than any other county in the U.S.There are currently 250 families here.
Many of these families continue to suffer post-traumatic stress (PTSD) from both fleeing war in their homeland and being totally unprepared for being placed in a completely new country with a different language, culture, history, religious traditions, and legal system. The majority have been resettled in El Cajon, a city in East San Diego County, with others in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.
The four local resettlement agencies contracted with the U.S. State Department were not adequately prepared for this sudden influx. Instead of being placed in furnished apartments as prescribed in the contract, many families were housed in crowded hotel rooms for weeks and months, often unattended to, escalating their anxieties.
Symptoms of trauma, often from multiple experiences, include self-imposed isolation, depression, and anxiety. These unresolved, painful emotions can be manifested in their daily lives through unhealthy family dynamics, parents being unable to provide basic parenting and caregiving for their children, failure for most of the adults and many of the children to be able to carry on a basic conversation in English, adult men getting and maintaining even entry-level jobs, and children doing very poorly in school.
Our experiences in helping these families and the USD* report reveal that the staff of many of the community service organizations that are used by the newcomers are not properly trained or prepared to satisfactorily serve refugees from the Middle East who have undergone significant trauma. This includes the schools the children attend, the medical community, and especially the area of counseling and mental health services.
OUR MISSION IS TO PROVIDE
Wellbeing – To see wellbeing as the norm among Syrian newcomers - a state of being comfortable, happy, healthy, secure, safe, and prosperous.
Trauma-Informed Care – To use a strengths-based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. This framework emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.
Acculturation – This is a process of social, psychological, and cultural change that stems from the balancing of two cultures while adapting to the prevailing culture of a different society.
Community – We will work to maintain and strengthen families, and improve the sensitivity and responsiveness of important community resources to the needs of the Syrian community.
COMPONENTS TO OUR INITIATIVE
1) Monthly Community Forums– Working with the Syrian community leaders, we will develop monthly forums that will create a three-way learning experience between and among the Syrian community, local community service and resource providers, and established community members.
2) Cultural Events– Planned in cooperation with the Syrian community leaders, we will provide monthly social gatherings/outings/events for building trusting and safe relationships among the Syrian families and the broader American community.
3) Peer To Peer (P2P)– Developing a group of well-trained, English-speaking community members, we will connect and pair up this group with Syrian newcomers to create two-way learning opportunities, to encourage practical English language use, and to increase social mobility of the newcomers.
INTENDED MEASURED OUTCOMES
1) To see Syrian newcomers holistically experience wellbeing and to thrive in their new life in America.
2) To see local community services and resources successfully supporting this process.**
Our expected launch date is October 1, 2019, and the project will run through the end of September 2020.
FUNDRAISING GOAL AND BUDGET
Our budget (pending fundraising success) for complete implementation for one year is $120,000.00.
David Schupack, Project Director
Rebecca DeBreau, Program Manager
Dan Bender, Community Liaison
Translators and cultural brokers : Local Syrians and Iraqis proficient in English
*The needs we are addressing have not only been confirmed from our own staff’s years of experiences in working directly with these refugee families but also with further research documented in a recent postgraduate University of San Diego research project Social Support Network for Syrian Refugees with Post-Migration Stressors Report* (USD report). We are using this report as the guideline and framework for our program as well as a University of New Mexico Refugee Wellbeing Study* (2016).
**In order to measure the success of this program, a mechanism in the form of before and after surveys will be used. With the help of the USD report, these surveys will be developed so particular metrics can be appropriately measured.
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