I recently spent a few hours at the health department with my son, getting his chicken pox vaccination. I gathered that most of the other people in the waiting room with us that day were immigrants. A variety of languages were spoken around us.
I saw a high school age refugee boy trying to handle the paperwork for his four siblings to get vaccinated, and a middle school age boy step up to talk to the nurse, saying that his mother did not speak English.
I was so proud of these boys, and also prayed earnestly for them for wisdom beyond their years. What a lot to manage at such a young age. But what else could they do?
Sometimes those of us who recruit volunteers seem to ask for only one “type” of person: gregarious, extroverted, life of the party, could-talk-to-a-wall type of people. But this is not the only type of person we need if we are to welcome immigrants well.
We also need savvy, detail-oriented people who are not intimidated by paperwork. There are SO many forms immigrants need to fill out regarding getting set up in a new place. Most are not asking for rocket-science type of data, but are overwhelming and confusing to those whose first language is not English.
And keep in mind too that (as I witnessed at the health department) often a school-age child is the one filling out these forms because of their language proficiency, but they lack the adult know how to understand some of the things being asked.
This is where you can come in.
Offering to help with paperwork questions or to go with an immigrant to an appointment where a lot of forms will need to be filled out is not glamorous work for sure. But it is helping in an extremely practical way, and it is being a guide for your immigrant friend as they navigate an unfamiliar system.
So, give it a try. If you don’t mind details, tell your immigrant friend, “You know, I will help you with paperwork if you ever need me to.” Deeper friendship and lasting bonds will be formed through your willingness to brave medical forms and job applications together!