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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jim Memmott: Effort at Charles Settlement House helps Somalis learn English

There is joy in the room at the Charles Settlement House in northwest Rochester, NY as a group of older Somali refugees practice their English language skills.

English-speaking volunteers voice the words; the Somalis say them back.

“Mother-in-law, mother-in-law,” they say again and again, the lesson using a family tree as a guide.

“Sometimes you love your in-laws,” says one of the English-speaking teachers, hitting the “sometimes” just right and drawing laughter from the Somalis.

Moments like this have been taking place all summer in a class organized by the Somali Community of Western New York.

Some of the students are relatively young, but many are older. They see their adult children go off to work each day; they see their grandchildren go to school. They are left behind.

“We began theses classes because we felt our seniors were so isolated in their own homes,” says Sadiya Omar, 45, one of the organizers of the classes. “It’s lonely when you don’t know the language and you can’t drive.”

Omar, a refugee from Somalia who came to Rochester in 2000 and works at St. John’s nursing home, moves easily between English and Somali. So, too, does Sahra Ibrahim, another refugee from Somalia, who helped establish the class.

Together Omar and Ibrahim, volunteers like everyone else in the program, have been unstoppable forces as they have reached out for help and support from Monroe County agencies and foundations.

The adult class first met twice a week; it now meets four days a week.

There also is a summer program for Somali children, all in space donated by the settlement house.

On this day, Kyla Harris, a volunteer from Nazareth College, works with the adults. She and Ibrahim jointly teach a lesson that glides into a discussion of food or the lack thereof, as the adults were observing Ramadan and fasting during the day.

Sharon Silvio, a retired Rochester city school teacher, also has been working the adults this summer. “They have hopes and dreams,” she says of her students. “They just want to be part of our society.”

By way of proof, she points to Faduma Ahmed and Maryan Sabriye as two of the stars of the class. “They are overachievers,” Silvio says

Sabriye, 49, arrived in Rochester on Dec. 2, 2010.
Was it cold?

“There was snow,” she says, laughing. “My children were scared. They were crying.”

Ahmed, 36, has only been here for six months. She shyly laughs as she tries out English words, but Sabriye urges her on. The words come. More will follow.

Silvio looks on, proud.

The adult class should continue into the fall, and Omar hopes that they can get an after-school program going for the children.

Money is always needed, she says. Instructors in sewing would be welcome, as would language teachers.
 She worries about all of this, but sometimes she just stands back and watches the children and the adults.
“They make my day,” she says. “They make me feel good at the end of the day.”

Source: Democrat and Chronicle

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