Imagine you fled the country you were born and raised in. Imagine you sold all your possessions so that your children could escape persecution. You just arrived in a new country to seek protection. It is winter. You have three young children. You barely speak the language. You know no one. You find shelter in a half-constructed building with no heat, no furniture, and no appliances. Your children have no warm coats. You cannot see a doctor. You have no means of transportation. You carry your suitcase on your head, and for hours you and your children walk on foot alongside a highway to get anywhere.
Unfortunately, Grace* does not have to imagine this scenario. Grace and her three children lived it. They fled Nigeria following months of persecution from her husband’s family, who sought to forcibly circumcise her two young daughters. When Grace came to Tahirih Justice Center she was not only in need of legal protection, she was in desperate need of social services. Prompted by the dire needs of Grace and countless others like her, Tahirih, with support from The William Randolph Hearst Foundation, proudly launched its first ever in-house social services program in July 2005.
The program addresses basic needs that Tahirih clients face on a daily basis, such as access to safe housing, food, medical care and counseling, and language services. It also provides individualized safety planning and crisis intervention, supportive counseling, and referrals for social and medical service needs. In addition, the in-house program coordinates client benefits such as job searches and trainings, family law services, and language classes.
Once Tahirih accepts a client, a program representative meets with her individually to help assess housing, medical, counseling and other needs and establish that the client has access to basic resources like shelter, food, and clothing. A second aspect of the program is to build networks and stay connected within the social service landscape to maintain a strong knowledge of available resources. This kind of outreach has helped bring five new doctors into Tahirih’s Pro Bono Medical Network in the past year.
Today, through Tahirih’s advocacy, Grace and her children live together in a transitional housing program. Her three young children are going to school. They have a primary care doctor. Grace often volunteers at Tahirih’s offices and has participated in job-training programs. She has a full-time job and drives her own car.
*Name has been changed to protect client privacy and safety.