Meet Our Staff: Shaloo Jose
“I never thought that there was this side of law where we could make a difference in client’s lives, in actual human’s lives.”
-Shaloo Jose, Director of the Asylee Outreach Program
We spoke with Shaloo Jose, Director of the Asylee Outreach Program, about what her role at HIAS PA means to her. Read the extended interview below!
What is your name and what is your role at HIAS PA?
My name is Shaloo Jose, and I’m the Director of the Asylee Outreach Program. In this program, we help asylees, refugees, and other Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)-eligible populations with social and legal services.
What brought you to HIAS Pennsylvania?
I came to HIAS PA fifteen years ago as a volunteer after arriving in the US from India. I had finished my law degree there, so I didn’t want to go back to law school in the US and repeat the whole process, but I was looking to do something in that field. Someone suggested volunteering at HIAS PA, so I joined under Judi Bernstein-Baker, volunteering with AOP to help with legal applications.
Why do you do what you do?
The reason why I do this and why I’ve continued to do this for fifteen years – when I started practicing trade marketing copyright law back in India, it was about paperwork and there was no client interaction. It was pretty dry. I never thought that there was this side of law where we could make a difference in client’s lives, in actual human’s lives. When I joined HIAS PA and started doing this work, I realized that I was making a difference in people’s lives. It doesn’t have to be big, but just the fact that you’re sitting there listening to their story means you’re making a difference. I’m also an immigrant, and I could feel what they’re going through, the pain of being separated from their family members, the anxiety of what’s going to happen next. The best part about this job is that every story, every client, is different. You might think, “Oh, I’m just doing another green card application”, but it’s a different client from a different country with a different story, and that’s so interesting. The fact that I can make a difference has kept me going in this for fifteen years, and hopefully beyond.
What languages do you speak, and how does this help you with your clients?
I grew up in the northern part of India, which is Delhi, so I speak Hindi and I can understand a little bit of Punjabi, but my parents are originally from Kerala, so I also speak Malayalam. I’ve only had to speak in Malayalam once with a client, but Hindi allows me to communicate with clients who are from India, but also with those who are from Pakistan and understand Hindi, since it is close to their native Urdu.
What does a typical day look like for you?
We’re working with people, so plans can change quickly. I start planning my day with applications that I have to do, making certain phone calls to clients, and then sometimes there are emergency client calls – a phone call is never quick. It usually starts with them asking about what’s happening with their application. In the past few months I’ve been asking how they’re doing at the beginning of the call, and as they discuss their problems I can start to figure out how to best help them. At the end of the day, we usually have our team check-ins, which I look forward to.
What is one interaction that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
I helped one client get her children here from Indonesia. I hadn’t done her initial application, but she had heard about me through another friend of hers, and she came to my office and said that her children’s application was getting rejected because Immigration never received a letter which she had mailed to them. I asked if she had proof that she had mailed the letter, which she did. We sent it to Immigration and they reopened the whole case. She was so excited – she hadn’t seen her kids in six or seven years; her youngest was still a baby when she left Indonesia. The case went to the embassy, she had her interview, and she called and said that her children were arriving. They arrived in New York in January or February, and I remember that the next day, they were all there, half-asleep, when I arrived at the office. My client said, “They needed to see you first-thing now that they’re in America, because you’re the one who got them here”, and that story will remain with me forever. She was so happy to have her kids with her. I was expecting my first daughter around that time, and I could feel it, how she as a mom must have felt not knowing how her kids were doing. She kept offering me gifts as thank yous, and I kept refusing, but she knew that I was pregnant so she gave me a mango – I don’t know how her kids got it through Customs – and I couldn’t refuse that. I was so tired that day, walking into the office, but seeing those kids there – it just shows the kind of work that we do, that everyone at HIAS PA in some way or another makes a difference in our clients’ lives.
What’s the most meaningful part of your position at HIAS PA?
I’ve learned a lot being the director of the AOP. In my other positions here, I was just doing applications. I’d never had a chance to go beyond that to ask clients how they were doing, and the social services aspect of this position forced me to do that. I trained myself to ask those personal questions, to better understand the clients’ needs, and that showed me how much the clients need. Their needs are way beyond them coming into our office and us doing their applications. Their minds aren’t settled – they’re thinking about how to pay rent, and how to go to medical appointments, and through this program, I’ve learned how to help them. I was lucky to have been with the other social services team at HIAS PA; they would guide me and help me with the next steps. I’ve learned so many things, like how to fill out benefits applications, the issues that come with applications, and getting clients to sit down and talk about their situations and try to find solutions. Clients feel like there is someone there to listen and help them find solutions. That’s the fun part of this position for me. Even if I was just there to be on the phone listening to what my client is going through, I’d feel like I did my part.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who wants to work in your position?
Patience. Lots and lots of patience. We’re dealing with a lot of bureaucracy at the federal level, and we’re dealing with clients’ emotions about what’s going to happen. You’re there in the middle, and you need to be able to react to situations quickly – clients might get frustrated and take those frustrations out on you, so you need to understand why the client is reacting that way, to sit down and listen as they vent. You shouldn’t think it’s about you or directed at you. Just know that you did your best. Give them your listening ear, because they need someone to hear them out. Being alone in this country, some of our clients have no one to talk to, and you’re the one, so you’ll get the joys and the sorrows – all of the emotions. So you need lots and lots of patience, especially since you’re also waiting on the federal government. You need to remember that it’s not about you, it’s about your clients. Your reactions could adversely affect your clients. From this position, I’ve learned patience and how to take it easy.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to your clients, coworkers, HIAS PA supporters, etc.?
To my clients – I know this is a long journey, and you’ve been through a lot, and the journey ahead isn’t an easy one either, but I feel that the staff at HIAS PA does its best to support you in the best way we can. Things aren’t in our hands all the time – once we file an application, it’s up to the government to decide, but I’ve noticed that as an agency, we’ve all supported our clients in whatever best possible way we can. And we’re there with them – a lot of staff members have been through that process and we understand what the process is like, so we can relate to them. It’s not an easy journey, but I always say “We’ll get through this”. We’re there to support them, to help them. The journey will end one day, it has to, and then we’ll all look back and there’ll be something that we’ve all learned. There will be good moments and bad moments, but once a client becomes a citizen, they’ll have a flashback moment about the journey and realize it was all worth it.
To my coworkers – I’m lucky to be at HIAS PA. You’re my family. I always welcome every new staff member as “Welcome to the HIAS PA family”. That’s how we are: we take care of each other. The way that we take care of our clients is like how we take care of each other. Everybody pitches in. That’s what family is. We might have our differences because we all come from different cultures, but under the HIAS PA umbrella, I think we’re all the same, and we’re all working toward one goal: It’s all about the client. That’s our mission. Continue the good work. It’s not easy, but it’s all worth it.
What’s your favorite thing to eat in Philly?
Food trucks, especially the one at the corner of 20th and Market. We used to call it Muhammad’s food truck. I miss it so much! The chicken, lamb, and rice combo is my favorite.