Refugee community breaks barriers amid pandemic

Refugee community breaks barriers amid pandemic
Updated: Jul. 17, 2020 at 6:22 PM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - An Amarillo refugee is working to break down language barriers to share valuable information about COVID-19 with other refugees in the community.

“It is hard to be an immigrant,” said Ryan Pennington, executive director of Refugee Language Project.

The pandemic has caused problems in virtually every part of lives, but for some, the problems were compounded.

“Fear and rumors about if we get sick, we could be deported or we could be imprisoned, that had no basis on reality,” said Pennington “But when you don’t speak English really well, it is easy for rumors to grow louder.”

In March, when many in the refugee community began getting sick due to the COVID-19 outbreak at meat packing plants in the area, a couple of community leaders reached out to Pennington. The partnership between the Refugee Language Project and the public health department began. They translated pamphlets and helped with contact tracing.

Samuel Uwimana is a refugee and student at Amarillo College who was one of those making the calls.

“In this town, City of Amarillo, there is a large number of people that come from my country, specifically Africa. They speak a different language, English is their second language,” said Uwimana. “I had to come out to be able to help out and give them information in my language, so they can understand what was happening in the U.S. and to be able to give them care, because most of them were affected by COVID-19. They were sent home and had nothing at all.”

Pennington says it’s not all bad. He saw people take initiative and fill in the gaps for their community.

“The silver lining of COVID-19 is that we have seen refugee communities take ownership, solve problems. Their status is raised in the community and have been able to get jobs with the health department, with local schools, because they have been seen and have been interacting with us more, and that is fantastic,” said Pennington.

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