Blue immigrated to the United States when she was 15 years old. Before that she and her family were living in a refugee community in Thailand. Because of her experience moving to a new country and adapting to a new culture and language, she understands the challenges faced by the youth she serves at International Council for Refugees and Immigrants.
Currently, she is serving her first term as an AmeriCorps member and she serves to help refugee and immigrant youth and their families navigate their new homes. She also studies at the University of Nebraska Omaha and graduates this spring.
ServeNebraska: In one or two words, what is AmeriCorps to you?
Blue Wah: Life-changing. This changes the lives of the people who come here and feel like they have no future. Then they finally feel like they can breathe.
SN: How did you hear about AmeriCorps?
BW: It was one of my friends. I was trying to look for a job and told me about this program. She said because I love to do community service and volunteer, I might enjoy doing this.
SN: What ultimately made you decide to join AmeriCorps?
BW: I like this program [because] you get to work with the youth. I feel like you know, so many youths who come here, if they are like the same age as me, like 15, they come here and they have to start learning English every day. It’s really hard to improve your speaking skills and even writing skills. So I just wanted to join AmeriCorps to be someone who gives them advice, that they can do this. If others can do it, you can do it too.
SN: How many students do you serve?
BW: I have 12 for now. Yeah, I see two of them each day. They have school, so I cannot meet them during the day, so I only talk to them after school. And now because of COVID, I don't even get to see them [in person], but I still talk to them.
SN: What have you learned as an AmeriCorps member with International Council for Refugees and Immigrants?
BW: Not just that my mentees are important to me, but I'm also important to them. Because one of my mentees, he told me when he’s able to speak [English] really well and go to high school, he wants to be like me. It was really cool. Yeah, he’s new here, only like two years. So he will send me all his notes, like goodbye notes, because he has to leave the class and move on to the next level, so he didn't know how to read them. So I translated them to Karen.
Because one problem we have here is the parents don't speak English, so we are trying to work with a different cultural background. Our service is not just to communicate with the mentee, but also with the parents. Sometimes they will call me, for example, if my mentee has a doctor’s appointment, they will call me to ask me to call the school or schedule an appointment for that. So I will do all those.
SN: In your opinion, who benefits most from AmeriCorps programs?
BW: The community. Before, many of in the Karen community that I know, if they have problems, they don’t know how to solve them, but when I work with their child they know they can come to me. Because you know, when you need help, it's not always free but with AmeriCorps, they can ask me for help for free.
SN: What is your favorite part of serving as an AmeriCorps member?
BW: Hanging out with the mentee because they don't get to hang out at all. Some of their parents, they don't know how to drive. Some of them have to stay home all week and they don't get to do anything. So if we have the chance to go out together, it's like the best day for them because they get to go and see new things. Some of my mentees are new here. They don't even know where to go. So like it's the best part.
SN: How has the COVID pandemic affected your service?
BW: I cannot meet with my mentee weekly. If we meet, we have to wear our masks and we have to be really careful. Also, we are not allowed to, take the mentee in our car. So it's really sad.
SN: Has AmeriCorps service affected your plans for your future?
BW: I want a job working with the community so I might do something like that in the future. Because me with a major in Criminal Justice and English, with my English I’m thinking maybe I want to become a writer if possible. For criminal justice, I can help my community, there's a lot of things to do.
For example, when I went to Karen office I told you about, they were there to help us read like the paperwork, and people who don't know anything about the criminal justice system don’t know how to explain it to them. And me, studying criminal justice, I'm able to say like, know your rights and the fourth amendment.
SN: How has AmeriCorps changed you?
BW: Before, I always thought of myself as someone who's not like, important. Like, I don't feel like I can do many things. And then with AmeriCorps, I feel like I can do something. I can be helpful, because so many youths, they came here when they were 9 or 10, they were so small when they came here. Their English is really good. But me, I came here when I was 15. I had to start over everything. I didn't have enough opportunity to learn to speak. So I always felt like I didn't want to do this, I didn't want to do that. But when I started this, I felt like, yeah, I can still do many things.
SN: Do you think that your experience as an immigrant coming to the U.S. has helped you understand your mentees better?
BW: I feel I understand the mentee and the parent better when it comes to their problems and their struggle. Because, you know, we are in the same situation. We faced the same struggle. So yeah, it really makes me happy to see that they have someone in their life to talk to and say, you can do this.
SN: Do you have a favorite memory from your AmeriCorps service so far?
BW: When we were doing some clean-up for one of the apartments [complexes], we were picking up trash and stuff. One of my mentees was like, “Oh, it's like the best thing we get to hang out and help clean the streets.” So we were cleaning the whole apartment and when other people around the community saw it, they just came out of the house and were trying to clean too. It was the coolest thing!
SN: What would you say to someone who is considering AmeriCorps but hasn't quite decided yet?
BW: You should do it because it’s going to change your life forever.
If you work with like families who come from different backgrounds, you're going to learn. It’s not just that you give to them, they will give you more than you give them.
*Answers edited for clarity and length.
If you would like to learn more about the ICRI AmeriCorps program, visit their website here: https://icrius.org/