“I remember one man in particular, who was living homeless with his two year old son. I told him the bad news: “You are not going to get any assistance and there is nothing more I can do.”
He looked straight at me and said, ‘Thank you, Rania. I know you probably feel right now that all your efforts were in vain. But they were not. I am grateful to you. Grateful that you listened. Grateful that you tried. It means a lot to me. Thank you for all the work you have done for myself and my son.’
Facing that client to say, “You’re welcome,” was the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my career so far.”
Name: E. Rania Rampersad
Age: 25 forever
Hometown: Seattle, Washington USA
Schools Attended and Degrees Conferred:
Georgetown University Law Center – Juris Doctor
University of Washington – BA in Business Administration with a minor in Chinese
What type of law did you practice before volunteering with Asylum Access?
Before joining Asylum Access, I was a Law Clerk to the Honorable Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen of the Washington State Supreme Court.
Please describe a typical work day in Tanzania.
8:30 arrive at office, drink lots of coffee, answer emails
9:00-11:00 conduct intake interviews with prospective clients
11:30 lunch in office – Rejoice that Lucy made pilau (spiced rice) today!
12:30 make calls to existing clients
14:00 work on the Refugees United Project (budgets, reports, drafting outreach documents, talk to Refugees United Fellow, e-mails to partners…etc.)
17:30 head home in a bumpy and exciting bajaj (a three-wheeled, golf-cart-sized taxi) and wonder whether we’ll make it through that puddle today without getting stuck!
What was the greatest personal challenge you faced as a VLA?
There are many challenges facing refugees in Dar es Salaam. Many people have no access to decent housing, clean water, sufficient food, or medical treatment. In addition, almost all of our refugee clients lack legal status. As is true for most legal services organizations, there are many people we cannot assist. We hope our efforts may someday improve the numbers, but for now, we simply all have to deal with those cases that have to close. When I have to tell a client there is nothing more I can do for him or her, they often, quite understandably, get very upset. But I’ve found that the most difficult people to deal with are not the ones who yell or argue, who plead or cry, but the ones who are grateful.
I remember one man in particular, who was living homeless with his two year old son. I told him the bad news no asylum seeker wants to hear, “I’m sorry. Your application for refugee status has been denied. You are not going to get any assistance and there is nothing more I can do.” He paused, took a death breath and closed his eyes. Then he looked straight at me and said, “Thank you, Rania. I know you probably feel right now that all your efforts were in vain. But they were not. I am grateful to you. Grateful that you listened. Grateful that you tried. It means a lot to me. Thank you for all the work you have done for myself and my son.”
I was shocked. How could he possibly be concerned about what I felt at that moment? How can someone be so kind, so compassionate, so selfless when confronting such personal adversity? It was really almost too much to bear. Facing that client to say, “You’re welcome,” was the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in my career so far.
What was your greatest accomplishment as a VLA?
My greatest accomplishment was the moment when everyone at Asylum Access Tanzania, Refugees United, and Asylum Access Headquarters agreed to sign a Joint Project Agreement. The joint project revolves around Refugees United’s online tool www.refunite.org which allows refugees all over the world to create a profile and search for missing family members, and it does so by maintaining a refugee’s security and not disclosing their location.
The project is quite a large undertaking, and involves many different phases. We are conducting community outreach sessions for refugees in Dar es Salaam. We are purchasing computers, web-enabled phones, and educational software to stock a Refugee Resource Room for our clients. We are forming a coalition of local non-profit organizations to work together to assist asylum seekers. We are hosting focus group discussions and developing informational materials for clients and partners.
I’ve been with this project from the beginning, when it was just a “Hey, you know what would be awesome?” idea, and it’s been brilliant to watch the phases unfold. This project is my baby! I’m very grateful to Asylum Access for creating an environment where I had the freedom and the support to dream big and make it happen. The experience has greatly enriched my time here in Tanzania.
Please describe a typical weekend in Tanzania.
Saturday morning, I often go to a yoga class in a fitness club just behind the fish market. (It doesn’t smell as bad as that sounds!) On the way, I pass such landmarks as a 300 year old baobab tree and a barbershop with a hilarious hand drawn picture of Will Smith. At the fitness club, there is a beautiful view of the ocean where I can meditate and try to regain balance after a week full of conflict and crisis. On Saturday afternoons, you can generally find me in a café by the Slipway where there is reliable air conditioning, reasonably good iced coffee, and occasionally, free internet to be had. Because my fellowship with Asylum Access ends in a few months, I’ll spend half the day applying for jobs, watching online lectures to keep my bar license active, and practicing Chinese with my online software. In the evening, I may cook dinner and watch a movie at home if there is power, or if there’s not, I may go to the best Ethiopian restaurant ever and see a Bollywood movie at the local theatre with my husband and friends from the office.
Sundays I often spend doing chores and hanging out with my husband.
Tell a story about a language barrier or cultural difference.
In my first month here, while learning basic Swahili, I accidentally told a shopkeeper that I live inside a banana: Mimi ninakaa ndizi.
What do you see as the greatest challenge to asserting refugee rights in Tanzania?
The greatest challenge to asserting refugee rights in Tanzania is the lack of concrete options. Many refugees find that they are not allowed to go to the camps, they are not allowed to live in Dar, and there are few, if any, opportunities to apply for legal status. As a result, they have no clear way out. They cannot go home. They cannot stay here. They exist in limbo, hiding in churches and salons, sleeping in shacks and even trees outside. It is terrifying and humiliating for them. Many had families, businesses, professional careers as carpenters, lawyers, and professors, but their lives were destroyed by war. They are people and they deserve better, but the current situation will not allow for anything more.
What one resource did you need that Asylum Access didn’t have?
Office air conditioning and more pens.
What was your favorite way to de-stress while in Tanzania?
Finding ways to de-stress is a constant struggle, but I am very lucky to have the support of my husband, and my boss/roommate here at AATZ who I have also come to rely on as a good friend. She has also organized group counseling sessions for our office, with a specialist in working with trauma victims, which has been amazing and given me lots of good ideas on how to actively manage stress. And when I need to forget it all for a while, I do yoga or bounce around in the living room to 80’s tunes on Dance Dance Revolution. Yes, I DID bring my Play Station II and Dance Pads all the way from Seattle!
How will this experience shape your future career plans/goals?
I intend to continue working in Public Interest Law, and I would very much like to continue doing direct client work.