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Manirambona Ernestine: A Passionate Community Navigator Making a Difference
Ernestine, RefugeeConnect's Kinyarwanda and Kirundi speaking Community Navigator (and Project Manage for CARE Cincinnati), shares why she thinks the Community Navigator program is important:
Imagine being in a
during the pandemic without speaking the
it be easy for you to survive? Under normal circumstances, it would still be difficult and I know, because I have been there. When
we first came to the United States, I did not speak English and
neither did my family. As the oldest of six siblings with parents who
did not speak English, I felt obligated to interpret for my family. I
tried to use the little bit of French that I knew to make sense of
English words so that I could try to help my family. About a month
and a half after we got to the U.S., I started school. I tried my
best to learn English as fast as I could, I asked for help, and
fortunately, I found people who were willing to dedicate their time
to help me whenever I needed it. Within six months, I was able to
speak enough English to help my family and people within my
community. I was always involved in helping my community in
different ways, such as through church, Catholic Charities, and
providing individual support. RefugeeConnect has made a huge
difference for me because it allows me to continue helping people but
also to earn an income doing so which has supported my own financial stability and it has helped people in my community create better futures for their families.
RefugeeConnect came up with the Community Navigator model to ensure that we were showing up for refugee families in need. My
work as a Community Navigator has made a huge impact on the families
I am supporting because I eliminate barriers that they may face accessing vital resources, especially during the pandemic. Families
know that they can always call me and I will do my best to support
them and if I am not sure of the answer, I either research it or ask
Refugee Connect staff for help. Refugee families have been hit hard by this pandemic with many adults losing jobs, making it tough to
get their basic needs met. Common
needs that I find in communities that I work with are how to access
food resources, getting through systems like accessing Medicaid, food
stamps, and how to renew important forms and support during emergencies. Families
appreciate when I call them and let them know what resources they
have access to, and how they can access those resources. They
appreciate it when I let them know if the Ohio governor puts
guidelines in place around health and safety or institute things
like curfews, so they can follow the recommendations and law to
prevent getting things like fines. If they don't know what's going
on they appreciate it when I give them information, particularly with
education around school and especially now that students are learning
online. As the Community Navigator, I can help create connections
between parents and schools so that parents feel more informed and
better able to advocate for their children.
Before becoming a Community Navigator, I didn't realize how important it was to have support from someone who understands your culture and language but since becoming one, I now know how extremely valuable this work is in helping families become stable and thrive. Community Navigators are powerful advocates for families because they help reduce barriers that refugees face when accessing resources and integrating into their new communities. That is why this program needs to continue: so that as Community Navigators
we can educate these families on how to access different resources
that they need and understand how to navigate various systems. The
families that I support are very wonderful people and I would like people to know
that refugees are resilient, that they have strengths and skills that
they bring to their new country, and that they are willing to do what
it takes to be contributing members of society. Even though we have
been refugees, we know how to survive and we are resourceful, we are
smart and talented, but maybe we didn't have opportunities that
others have been afforded. By being able to come here, we can use our
talents to be contributing citizens. Sometimes, we just need a little extra support such as having a Community Navigator in our corner.
Since March, RefugeeConnect has supported 96 families (453 individuals) of which over half are school-aged youth. We employ 8 Community Navigators who speak French, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Kirundi, Lingala, Arabic, Spanish, Nepali, Hakha Chin, in addition to English.
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