KROC PEACE SCHOOL GRADUATE ASSISTS REFUGEE COMMUNITY
Every day the coronavirus crisis goes on, Womaniala Gerald ’19 (MA) appreciates the skills he learned in conflict management and resolution a little more.
Even before COVID-19 began upending lives, Gerald was busy working with members of the San Diego refugee community from Africa. Echoes of Faith, the nonprofit he founded in 2017, supports these refugees in a variety of ways, including finding employment and transportation to work, doctors’ appointments and shopping centers.
Gerald, who spent three years in a Kenyan refugee camp himself, assists with efforts to help clients integrate into the region’s community and economy. He works along with a handful of volunteers, who are also former refugees. Often, they help negotiate on behalf of their clients as they find living arrangements or purchase vehicles.
But those successes came to an abrupt halt as the virus took hold. “Everything has come to a standstill,” he said in early April, the concern evident in his voice. Families who live paycheck to paycheck are wondering how they will pay rent from now on or purchase food and medicine.
To help clients meet those needs, his team first assisted many of the 45 or so families they work with in filing for unemployment. Now they wait. California’s Economic Development Department has been overwhelmed by millions of applications.
“We are trying to be hopeful and survive by the grace of God,” says Gerald, who has never taken a salary for his work and moonlighted as a licensed driving instructor while caring for his wife, Jane, two young sons, Edric and Elmore, and father, Charles.
Now Gerald is on call 24/7, using the lessons he learned in facilitation and dialogue at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies to help clients deal with landlords and creditors.
A recent afternoon found him looking for new housing for a family trying to economize and assisting with their rental application. Another family had a member who needed mental health care, resulting in a $30,000 medical bill. Gerald is working with them and the provider on a payment plan.
In many cases, landlords and creditors have been helpful, he says. For the most part, “San Diegans are understanding” and willing to be flexible in this time of emergency. He’s also grateful that family members are heeding the nonprofit’s call to wash their hands and practice social distancing. As of yet, none one of them appears to have contracted the virus.
But as the crisis continues, there are other challenges where his own experiences as a refugee and his conflict resolution and mediation skills come into play. When there are conflicts in families, churches or other organizations, “people reach out to me,” he says.
“If I’m confronted in any situation, I apply the wisdom and all the tools I’ve learned, including patience. Right now, there is so much I’m achieving because USD gave me the knowledge,” Gerald adds. The opportunity to learn from his professors and the USD community “are a great blessing and something I will forever cherish.” — Liz Harman