Keeping Communities Connected During a Pandemic
By Sarah Barnett and Bailey Clark
World Relief Memphis has several community ambassadors who are helping to connect former refugee and immigrant groups in the city of Memphis. Our bilingual ambassadors connect members of these communities with resources in their languages, which is especially important now as the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives. They are sharing important information to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in addition to providing resources to alleviate food security, access relief efforts, or transition to virtual school. We would like to introduce them to you and highlight the incredible work they are doing, starting with our Spanish-speaking ambassador, Diana.
Argentina, Chile, Ecuador. Originally from Venezuela, Diana Sanchez’s family is now scattered across the Western Hemisphere after being forced to leave their home country due to the humanitarian crisis and resulting political and economic difficulties there. Today, all she has left of them is the stories she has heard about their lives in these new countries and the memory of spending time with them while eating her mother’s homemade arepas.
Yet despite the thousands of miles separating her from her family, Diana has learned that there is another type of family—one that is found in the community surrounding you. Since arriving in Memphis four years ago as a refugee, Diana has found another home within the immigrant community here, in part due to her time as an English student at the Connect Language Center.
There, Diana connected with other refugees and immigrants who were looking to improve their English and rebuild a life for themselves in the U.S. Because classes at the CLC are not divided by national origin or native language but rather by English ability, Diana was able to meet people from various backgrounds. As they shared about their lives little by little during vocabulary practice or other class activities, students began to form friendships with one another by encouraging each other in their journeys toward integration and acquiring English as a second language.
As a result, Diana began to build a community—and family—of other refugees and immigrants from various backgrounds. Over time, she connected with others in the Latinx community as well, in part thanks to social media. Facebook pages are often used as a networking resource to connect this tight-knit group of immigrants in Memphis. When a problem arises, people know exactly who to contact within the Latinx community. Because of the diversity of countries and situations represented among Spanish speakers, there are people who have been in Memphis for a long time who can help those who have arrived more recently or under more dire circumstances.
Over time, Diana became one of the family leaders for this community within Memphis. As any family member would, Diana began sharing resources with others in need, starting by sharing language resources with the rest of the Spanish-speaking community after her own success with improving her English at the CLC. Many people have been here for years without learning more than how to order in a restaurant or give and receive directions, and the benefit from language instruction at all levels is incredible.
Yet when the pandemic struck and World Relief began looking for community ambassadors, Diana had another opportunity to give back to the Latinx community. By using the active social media pages, Diana has been able to spread the word about available resources, including those provided by World Relief.
Through her work, many families have been made aware of ways to improve both their physical and mental health during the pandemic. Diana has spread the word about food banks, school materials through Shelby County schools, flu shots, free COVID testing, and resources for improving mental health such as the value of going on walks, getting out of the house, and staying connected to the community while maintaining social distancing protocols.
While this immigrant community will never replace her family, it has become incredibly important to her, and acting as a Community Ambassador to the Spanish-speaking community has been one way to give back. Diana aims to continue connecting those in her community with tools and resources to ensure their success, and she is proud of the ways that she has been able to do so through the support of World Relief and the help of digital platforms that allow for easy communication during the pandemic.
One day, Diana hopes to develop her hair stylist business in order to help her family and others. In the meantime, she will continue to improve her English and connect World Relief’s resources to those she knows who are in need of the extra support. 2020 was the first time that the Memphis team utilized community ambassadors to reach broader immigrant communities, and we are so thankful for her work and passion for developing these connections!
Sarah Barnett was the former Mobilization Intern for World Relief Memphis and is a senior at Furman University in South Carolina. She majors in Political Science and Spanish and is passionate about influencing where people and policies collide.
Bailey Clark serves as the Communications Coordinator for World Relief Memphis. With a background in journalism and advertising, she is passionate about storytelling and its power to make a difference.