Monday, October 15, 2012

Student Reflection

Entrance to the Refugee Center.
by Erik Bingham

Volunteering at ECIRMAC

During this fall semester I will be volunteering my time to work at the refugee center (ECIRMAC). I chose to work are ERCIMAC for a couple reasons. One, because it is literally a two minute bike ride away from my apartment, and two, because I wanted a new Spanish experience to add to my résumé. As I said in my first post, in Spain I taught an English class once a week with a couple other student teachers to disabled adults.  While I did enjoy teaching and would like to continue exploring that field, working at ECIRMAC gives me the experience of being in an office.

The office of ECIRMAC is pretty small. In fact, I’m guessing that the room I work in is about the size of my bedroom. Well, maybe it is a little bit bigger. Some days I will be the only one in the room for my entire hour of volunteering. However most days there is at least one other person working when I am there. Already I have met some awesome people and am looking forward getting to know them better.

While I have only worked a couple weeks I have already had some professional experiences with my Spanish skills. I usually just answer the phone and take messages- which is actually a little difficult due to the different accents, speed, and the fact that it is over the phone. Every time I do answer the phone though I get a little better at understanding what our clients are saying. Something that is more interesting than taking messages is actually interacting with our clients in the office. Many times they cannot speak or read English and need a translator to help them with a variety of documents. I had the opportunity to translate a birth certificate for a mother and then we went to the Urbana library to get it notarized. She then tried to give me twenty dollars for my service. Needless to say I politely refused payment and she was very grateful.

One of the workers there told me that many people depend on the services that ECIRMAC provides. From the first day that I worked I could see that this was true. Things that are pretty simple for most Americans such as reading a letter or filling out a tax form (maybe not so simple) are nearly impossible when someone cannot understand what the document says. I cannot imagine being in a country where I do not speak the main language. While I don’t do much because I do not work full time, I feel proud to be a part of this team that is providing such a great service to the community.

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