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Elisabeth Skiles - Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois
Public health knows no bounds in who and where it serves.

Career Goal: To improve the health and lives of refugees and internally displaced people through policy and advocacy.

Internship Outline: As a case manager intern at RefugeeOne, a refugee resettlement agency in Chicago, Elisabeth spent her summer helping refugees, asylees, parolees and secondary migrants resettle in the city. She worked with a diverse and global population of people from Burma, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Syria and other countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Elisabeth helped this population complete a number of the required tasks that make up the standards measuring the success of a refugee being able to live self-sufficiently in Chicago. These tasks included, but were not limited to, applying for Social Security, applying and collecting their benefits (food, medical and cash) from the Department of Health Services, making and bringing them to their medical appointments and helping them learn how to navigate the public transit system on their own. She also assisted in creating files, filing documents in those files and case noting, which are all tasks vital to the order and funding of RefugeeOne. 

Value of Experience: My time at RefugeeOne provided me the opportunity to experience, firsthand, the refugee resettlement and placement process in the United States — a stage of a refugee’s journey that is not well known outside of those working within the resettlement sector. Everyday I personally case-noted my experiences at RefugeeOne and, as a result, I was able to write a policy brief assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the resettlement and placement process used to resettle refugees in the city of Chicago. This policy brief was directed to the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago with the goal to educate these leaders on the current refugee resettlement process in order to best advocate for the changes needed to insure the greatest number of refugees are able to resettle to the point of living self-sufficiently in Chicago. My time at RefugeeOne also allowed me to work with a community of people I wish to work with throughout my career. I have done so in the past, but never in this capacity or at this stage in their journey as refugees. This internship allowed me to better understand their experience and confirmed that I want to spend my life serving them.

Best Experience: The best experience happened each time I witnessed a refugee’s resilience. I could give one example after another of such moments, but there is one that sticks out for me… I had the opportunity to provide childcare to four siblings, including a set of triplets, while their parents completed intake (a step in the resettlement process that collects a refugee’s background and answers any of their initial questions). The children and I had a lovely time together rising above the language barrier to play cards, to practice English by writing out their names and making paper airplanes. My time with the children ended in each one giving me a drawing with my name written in English and a sentence of Arabic underneath. I later learned that the sentence said “I love you.” As I said, each time I got to witness a refugee's resilience, I experienced my favorite moment at RefugeeOne, but there is something about seeing it with children that makes the resilience all the more amazing to me and makes me the more committed to serving this community of people.   

Funding Source: Weinerman Fellowship