Portland team helps refugee families navigate school systems

by | Jan 12, 2024 | Family Support, Refugees & Immigrants, Staff Spotlight

Daya Shakya looks through pictures of youth he’s assisted in his 14 years with LCSNW.

An LCSNW refugee program that doesn’t get a lot of attention yet makes a big difference for newly arrived families is the Oregon Refugee Children’s Assistance Services, known as ORCAS for short.

“When refugee and asylum-seeker families arrive, they have no idea how to walk within the community,” said Daya Shakya, an education support specialist with ORCAS. “They need to be integrated into the local school system, and that takes individualized support.”

From Nepal originally, Daya came to the U.S. in 1998 and has worked at LCSNW for 14 years, always supporting this program, which has endured several iterations and names. Daya is part of LCSNW’s three-person ORCAS team. They assist refugee students at public schools and educate parents and students about school norms.

Hailing from Nepal and a linguist by education, Daya speaks Nepal Bhasa (Newari), Nepali, Hindi, Urdu and English, and reads Sanskrit. He said the humanitarian service he delivers as an LCSNW staff member is what motivates him.

“I’ve had many families who’ve spent years living in refugee camps,” he said. “Students might not know it’s respectful to look their teacher in the eye. Many don’t know about our ways of lining up or the expectation that you raise your hand if you’d like to talk in class.”

“Parents don’t know about homework or that when their child is ill, the child should stay home. They send their children to school because they don’t want them to miss class,” Daya said. 

Each staff person has nearly 50 client families at any given time. They meet parents and children at their home, learn their educational needs, and coordinate with school counselors. The ORCAS team is also responsible for finding activities that engage students during school breaks, such as summer camps and other enrichment opportunities. 

ORCAS is required to accept all recently arrived refugee students. Most clients are referred by way of LCSNW’s Refugee Resettlement and Placement program. After one year, families are no longer eligible for ORCAS support.

LCSNW is one of several agencies collaborating to deliver services from ORCAS, which is funded with federal dollars passed through the state of Oregon.