The Diocese of Des Moines
Refugee case workers teach newcomers rules of US culture (both official and non-official)
July 26, 2010
Written By: Trish Radke

I recently had the privilege to sit down and talk with one of the case workers in our Refugee Resettlement Program. He shared that one of the most difficult parts of his job is conveying the laws and rules of our culture, both official and non-official, to people who are coming from other countries.

He used an example of signing a lease for an apartment. In the U.S., people enter into written agreements, actual contracts that are signed, to rent a home. Homes are rented for a specific time period and come with a set of expectations of the tenant and landlord, which are written in the contact.
This concept is not common place in third-world counties like Burma, Somalia and Sudan where many refugees that Catholic Charities’ resettle come from. In many of these countries, homes are “rented” out in minutes, with a word-of-mouth agreement. There is no paperwork, no need for drivers license numbers or the location of your last six residences.  
So you can imagine the confusion caused by simply trying to find an apartment or a house, something I, for one, have always taken for granted. And just think of all of our "non-official" rules, like not to ask a woman her age or not to talk about a persons weight?
Our dedicated case workers work to educate refugees on issues such as this, as well as a mountain of other ins-and-outs of our culture.  When a refugee family arrives in Iowa, a case worker meets them at the airport and helps them as they being their journey here in Des Moines, Iowa. Rules and laws, official and not, are immediate topics of discussion.
Catholic Charities’ is now one month in of handling refugee resettlement independently (after 15 years of partnership with Lutheran Services in Iowa).  As we work to provide the best possible services for families coming to the US because of war and persecution in their homeland, we invite you to join us. Save to


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