Wednesday, December 15, 2010

UNHCR and the Blue Key

Here's a suggestion for an inexpensive yet valuable stocking stuffer this holiday season. UNHCR has introduced the Blue Key campaign to raise awareness of refugee issues around the globe.

You can purchase your own blue key for only $5 from the UNHCR Web site. The site also includes a downloadable book with refugees stories. Each story is followed by a response from a celebrity in the arts, politics, or elsewhere on the world stage.

Help unlock the door to a better future. Click here to learn more.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dispatch from Aurora

Carina Ramos has been tutoring an Eritrean refugee since July, 2010. Here, she reflects on the experience so far.

by Carina Ramos

I will never forget the first time I ever walked into my student’s apartment, four months ago. A young, Eritrean mother of four, Gidey greeted us warmly with one of the few phrases she knew in English: “Hello, how are you?” The distinct smell of coffee beans being roasted right there in her living room struck me sharply—and not in your typical ‘Starbucks’ aromatic way, for sure…

The humble apartment was sparsely furnished and Gidey offered us two chairs at the kitchen table—and, after she rushed around trying to tidy up the apartment a bit—she sat down with us to complete the initial questionnaire. Through her eight-year-old daughter, who had already been in school for nine months and knew the most English in the house, we were able to communicate our questions to her and obtain answers.

After Sharon, the coordinator left, I stayed there longer to drink “boona”— Ethiopian coffee—with her and get to know her better. Other Eritrean neighbors and cousins came in and, since most were more fluent in English than her, acted as translators too, telling me more about her life in Eritrea as a farmer, her complete lack of formal schooling, and her excitement at the possibility of receiving English classes at her home.

I started meeting with Gidey two evenings a week, and despite frequent interruptions by her older daughter, toddler, and baby, we started scratching the surface of the English language by learning basic phrases, such as “Hello, my name is…”. Since she was completely illiterate in both Tigrinya and English, all of our classes were oral at first.

After a couple of sessions, Gidey told me, through her daughter, that she wanted to learn the “ABC,” so we began working on saying and recognizing the alphabet visually, as well as writing it. We worked with textbooks, workbooks, notebooks, and white boards—practicing over and over again. I bought her a colorful alphabet chart, which we stuck to her kitchen wall and referred to often. It ended up being a great hit both with her, her children, and the neighbors, and was the source of everyone’s admiration. After more than two months, we started working on writing out her name, and she copied it over and over again in her notebook, trying to memorize it. I tried to put myself in her place, and imagined trying to write my name in Tigrinya, a language with strange characters, completely foreign to me. How long would it take me to recognize it when I read it, and learnt to write it?

At the end of one of these sessions, I turned over to a clean page of her notebook, and told her to write her name, without any reference to copy from. I waited anxiously to see how she would do… and watched her slowly trace the letters, one by one, perfectly! One of her Eritrean friends was sitting on the couch across the room, watching, and we all cheered and clapped as she finished writing the last letter. She smiled proudly as she examined her work. Then, she wrote it a few more times across the page, so as to cement it into her memory. What a sense of accomplishment! It was as great as writing a thousand-word essay—the feeling of crossing a hurdle initially as tall as Ras Dashen, the tallest mountain in Ethiopia. What an achievement!

In her next class, Gidey copied all of her children’s names down and practiced them in her notebook. It looked so neat and clear that I cut out the pages and stuck them on her refrigerator, while she beamed with happiness. Her handiwork was on display for her to admire every day.

We have been moving on to food names, numbers, and other basic vocabulary—all with the goal of helping her become increasingly independent when she goes to the supermarket, to her child’s school, and to complete basic government paperwork. I look forward to helping her cross many more hurdles—though the progress may at times be slow—because her contagious enthusiasm carries us forward each session. And of course, no class is complete without a cup of home-roasted, ground, and brewed Ethiopian ‘boona’ at the end to celebrate all of our hard work.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Noodles for a great cause!!

September 9 is the birthday of Emily Griffith Opportunity School. Here's an idea for a birthday gift that's good for you and the school. On September 9, eat at Noodles & Company's location at 6th Avenue and Broadway in Denver after 4:00 p.m.. Mention the school, and part of your purchase will be donated to the Emily Griffith Foundation. The Foundation funds student scholarships and school improvements, and many refugees have benefited from this generosity.

Save the date, and save room for a great (inexpensive) meal!!

Don't strain your eyes...Click on the picture to enlarge!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Currently on the NPR Website: Two stories about refugees and school--and both provide valuable insight into how a person's background affects life as a student.

New Refugee Students In NY Get Ready For US School
by The Associated Press

Photo, Associated Press/NPR

For their first fire drill, teachers at the Refugee Youth Summer Academy gathered their students, leading them out of the building to show them what to do during drills in the upcoming school year.

But one thing was missing: the sirens. They had been muted, for fear blaring alarms could trigger terror in children who recently arrived from war zones and other conflict areas where sirens can signal danger.

The silent fire drill was part of the balancing act for staff at the 6-week summer program that helps children who have survived wars and refugee camps prepare for a new experience — American public school.

It's not just about the academics, said Elizabeth Demchak, principal of the school run by the International Rescue Committee, which works with refugees and asylum-seekers.

For some of the kids, formal education has been haphazard or nonexistent, Demchak said. For others, school consisted of sitting and taking notes surrounded by dozens of others with a teacher reciting a lecture.

Preparing them means helping them learn how to go to school along with what they learn there.

To read the rest of the story, please click here.

To read or listen to the second story (listening to it gives a more authentic experience and may actually be easier to follow), please click here.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Refugee kids doing something good

From KUSA in Denver, a short piece about Growing Colorado Kids. This group helps refugee kids learn to raise their own vegetables, as well as sell some. Participants also learn cooking and nutrition skills. You can read more by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More from the field...

Ann Lockhart is technically retired, but still works as a freelance editor. She has been a volunteer teacher in the CRESL In-home Tutoring Program since 2000.

Why I like tutoring refugees
by Ann Lockhart

Tutoring refugees has been a very satisfying and absorbing volunteer activity for me since my early retirement. Refugees really need the help to function here, not only with English, but also with daily life challenges like doctor’s appointments, deciphering junk mail, telemarketers, making appointments, filling out forms, etc.

Just as they learn the basics of the language and American culture, I always learn a lot about them, their country, culture and food. Many have stories of political discrimination, torture and displacement. Unfortunately, they can’t explain much of their past until they learn more English.

Having an ongoing personal relationship with each refugee has been really important, interesting and challenging for me. It makes me realize how very fortunate we Americans are. We think we are not rich, but we have so much more than any of them do.

After their traumatic departure from their homeland, refugees come to the U.S. exhausted, but hopeful about starting a new life in one of the richest countries of the world. Then reality sets in. They have to learn so much so fast, starting with the money, the transportation, getting a job, shopping for basics and paying back the loan for their long flight to the U.S. They also get a small apartment with mismatched furniture and very basic supplies.

A man and his wife from Sudan who later lived in Egypt were my first refugee students. He had been a self-educated magazine publisher in Khartoum, and was a political prisoner for 10 years. I was really, really nervous about meeting them, and I think they were just as nervous. But we all relaxed as in-home refugee coordinator Sharon McCreary broke the ice and introduced us. I continued meeting with them for several years, watching their children grow, learn English, attend school and gradually begin to call Denver home.

The Sudanese family was absolutely thrilled when I took them to the Denver Art Museum to see the Cezanne exhibit and again absolutely excited when I got some free tickets to take them to the Denver Symphony. I also took them to see the Glendale fireworks display July 3rd and Sunday night summer concerts at City Park.

My second assignment was tutoring a woman from Iraq with a small child, whose husband went back to Iraq as a translator to the U.S. Army during the war there. Often our English lessons were interrupted by a child’s demands, cries or interruptions. I learned a lot about Iraq and the war there.

She worked really hard to study for her citizenship test, asking me to go over and over the questions weeks before her scheduled meeting. I took her to the office for her test, which consisted of only 10 questions. To her great relief, she did very well. Attending the citizenship ceremony with many other refugees with their friends and families was a really moving experience for me.

Next was a Somali Bantu woman who left an abusive marriage, taking her baby boy with her. Little by little her traumatic life story came out. Her father was a general, and her mother a shopkeeper, but their lives all changed dramatically when warlords took over the government. Her entire extended family is scattered in various countries. She eventually went to St. Louis, Missouri, hoping to get a job and start over.

A woman from Bhutan, whose family was forced to leave that country for neighboring Nepal, is my current assignment. Her two little girls run in and out, and family members come in and out as we try to focus on the English lessons. Her neighbor asked if she could join us, so now we three work together every week.

Preparing lessons does take some time, but I know the better I prepare, the better it goes. With the Picture dictionary, flash cards, workbooks, paper, pencils and whatever else I can come up with, we keep on working.

It’s been fun for me to share with all of them what I love about Denver and the United States. It takes time for us to communicate well about more difficult, abstract issues, going beyond pictures, gestures and simple words.

I highly recommend in-home tutoring as a very satisfying volunteer activity.

Photo courtesy of Ann Lockhart

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Employment alert

Some of you have asked about jobs in the CRESL program. There are currently several openings. Send your resume to:
Slavica Park, Dean of Instruction
Emily Griffith Opportunity School
1250 Welton St.
Denver, CO 80222
Do not call!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Time to report your hours!

It's time to report your in-home tutoring hours for JULY 2010. Please submit via email no later than this Thursday, August 5!

On Saturday, your volunteer coordinator will be heading out of town to vacation at an undisclosed location where she most definitely does not wish to spend her time working on the monthly report. (Have we ever mentioned vacations are unpaid?)

Please report your hours in a timely manner!

Sharon returns to the office on Monday, August 23, but will not be checking in during the two-week summer break. Ahhhhh.....

A visit to women's Saturday ESL class...

There are 17 photos total in this album. If it stops playing, advance manually using the buttons at the bottom of the pictures.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Parenting, field trips affected

State booster seat law changes Sunday, August 1

On Sunday, Colorado's child passenger restraint laws will change and, going forward, all children between 4 and 8 years old must travel in the back seat of the vehicle and be in a booster seat.

For information on why the law changed, click here for an informative link from KUSA/Channel 9 in Denver.

For a full detailing of what the law requires of drivers, visit the Colorado Child Passenger Safety (CCPS) website at

The CCPS website also includes a list of fitting stations for drivers who want to be sure they are buckling their kids in correctly. For the first year, drivers who are pulled over by the police and who are not in compliance with the child safety law will be given a warning and education only.

Please keep these rules in mind if you plan to include your student's children in a field trip!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Highlight: Saturday women

We've recently asked volunteers in the CRESL program to tell a bit about what they do. Today's guest blogger is Elena Saenz, one of the facilitators of the Saturday morning class at Grace Apartments, and an ELA/ESL teacher in Denver Public Schools. The Saturday class started as somewhat of an experiment, and we all thought it would be temporary, but six years later, enthusiasm and participation are still strong.

The Saturday ESL for Refugee Women class was started about 5 to 6 years ago by Susan Renick, Melissa Nix and a few other people who were looking for a solution for the women who were unable to attend Emily Griffith’s ESL classes, but who also weren't thriving in the one-to-one tutoring program. The need was for specific help for the Somali Bantu women, as those were the refugees who were also the largest group at that time.

The class has since evolved to serve whichever groups of refugee women are currently living at Grace Apartments or in the surrounding community. At present, the women attending the class include the Burmese Karen and Karenni, Somali Bantu, as well as women from Burundi and Bhutan. We have learned to remain flexible since this makeup changes from year to year.

I got involved about four years ago. I was working with these women’s children as their ESL teacher at Whiteman Elementary in Denver and wanted to expand my knowledge of their culture and home life. Since then, I have become one of two lead “teachers.” Melissa Nix (Regis University) and I (Denver Public Schools) share the responsibilities along with a myriad of volunteers.

This is a free program and everyone who helps is a volunteer. Melissa and I make sure the community room at Grace is open every Saturday and that fresh fruit and vegetables are provided for the students (Melissa writes a grant that underwrites this expense, plus provides occasional materials). We don’t use a specific curriculum with the women as we never know who is going to come. We attempt to guide ourselves by the needs of the women and their individual English levels.

We meet most Saturdays. We start between 8:15 and 8:30 a.m. Most of the women arrive no later than 8:45. We break up into two major groups (beginner and intermediate/advanced). Volunteers work with a group, partners, or an individual. We have materials available, plus some volunteers bring their own things to work from. We work until about 9:45 and then stop to make sure that we can pass out fruit and veggies and put the room back in order before leaving.

The women are so appreciative of the time to practice or better their English, as well as for the food. The wonderful reception and gratitude by the students are two of the reasons why I have continued to work with them for so many years. For me, there is nothing more special in this world than spending time with a group of women who give more to me than I will ever be able to give to them.

Elena Saenz
Saturday ESL volunteer

If you would like to join the Saturday volunteers at Grace, please contact

Monday, July 26, 2010

More online resources

If you're looking for more ideas on how to approach language teaching, there are hundreds of resources available on the Internet. Today's link is for English with Jennifer, A site for language learners.

Jennifer is a language teacher who has both studied and worked abroad. She has created a series of self-study lessons for students, as well as some tips for teachers. Video lessons are available via YouTube. Also take a look at the Everyday Vocabulary section of the site.

Jennifer has a companion blog just for teachers. The blog is full of great advice, teaching tips, and lesson ideas. Be sure to take a look at her lists of useful links and resources. The site is well-written and easy to access.

If you prefer to stick with video and you are looking for videos to incorporate into your lessons, Jennifer has an entire YouTube channel that you can access for free. Click here to see the wealth of videos Jennifer has created.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More is better

A couple of years ago, I shared a video that was making its way around the Internet. It was created by world traveler Matt Harding of Seattle. It remains, without question, one of my favorite things. I have it saved to the hard drive of my computer, and I still watch it on those days when I need a lift.

Somehow, I managed to miss that Harding had participated in something else I hold dear: The "This I Believe" essay series on National Public Radio.

I like Harding's essay. I think he articulates what a lot of us feel about being an explorer, a traveler, and a tribe member. He understands that we want to connect. If you didn't agree, you probably wouldn't be volunteering in a program like this one.

Click here for the link to the NPR story, but do yourself a favor: Listen to it, don't read it. It's meant to be an audio piece. You can also find a link to Matt's video on this page, as well. On the NPR page, click the picture that matches this one, above.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Employment leads

It's a fact that many people who volunteer with our programs also hope to eventually become employed in a related field. I field many inquiries about job openings, but that's hard to keep up with when so many volunteers are in the mix.

At the moment, quite a few new positions have been posted throughout the network. If you are interested in a teaching position or if you are more inclined to do case management or agency work, there's a chance there's something available now. Polish those resumes and check these Websites:

Lutheran Refugee Services (at least two positions open)

At Ecumenical Refugee Services, there is currently an opening for an employment specialist assisting refugees with job placement. Contact Sabina Durmisi at

African Community Center,
The Learning Source:

Emily Griffith Opportunity School, Language Learning Department and CRESL Program: Click here to go the DPS search page. In the second box, "Search words or phrases," type EMILY and then click the search button. This will show you all open positions at the school.

Spring Institute: Check out their jobs page:

Happy job hunting!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Film screening

National Geographic’s documentary,
“Inside North Korea”
featuring Lisa Ling

Tuesday, July 13 at 7pm

African Community Center
850 Holly St, Denver CO

National Geographic correspondent Lisa Ling journeys into mysterious and reclusive North Korea posing as part of an international medical team in this compelling documentary. Filmed against the politically charged backdrop of North Korea's nuclear ambitions, "Inside North Korea" is a fascinating search for the truth, and mutual understanding, inside one of the most isolated and repressed nations on Earth.

This event is brought to you by LiNK, (Liberty in North Korea) an organization currently working on a modern day underground-railroad, helping refugees who have escaped North Korea. By North Korean law it is illegal to leave the country; however, many North Koreans face starvation and complete religious oppression and persecution if they stay. Those who risk their lives to flee to China must live in hiding. If caught, they will be sent back to North Korea and executed or put into a concentration camp.

Learn more on the LiNK Website,

Friday, July 9, 2010

Call for Volunteers

Help organize a speaking event featuring
Valentino Achak Deng

Valentino Achak Deng is a Sudanese refugee and the subject of the bestelling book, What is the What by Dave Eggars. Since the publication of the book, he and Eggars have established the The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, a US-based nonprofit organization working to increase access to education in post-conflict Southern Sudan by building schools, libraries, teacher-training institutes, and community centers.

In May of 2009, the foundation opened The Marial Bai Secondary School in Marial Bai, Valentino’s hometown. To learn more about the foundation, you can see their website at

Valentino will be in Boulder from September 11 to September 13. Sara Beth Ford, who has worked with refugees extensively, along with several others, is putting together a group to set up a speaking event in the Boulder-Denver area. Sara's group needs the assistance of dedicated volunteers who are interested in helping with this project. This is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in raising money for the foundation and educating people about the lives of Sudanese refugees.

If you are interested in being a part of this project, Sarah would love to hear from you. Please contact her ASAP with your name and phone numbr. Include a brief note telling how you would be interested in helping out. A preliminary planning meeting is planned for Tuesday, July 13 or Wednesday, July 14 at 6:30 p.m. in Lousiville.

This is a rare opportunity to work on a short-term project that will raise awareness of refugee issues both here and abroad.

You can contact Sara by email at

In April of this year, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent Op-Ed piece about Valentino Achak Deng's work in Sudan. You can access the article by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

For those who want some online practice

If you haven't found it already, I highly recommend a self-study ESL site called U.S.A. Learns.
According to the site creators:

U.S.A. Learns is an outgrowth of a project that was conceived by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of Vocational and Adult Education, Division of Adult Education and Literacy (DAEL). DAEL promotes programs that help American adults get the basic skills they need to be productive workers, family members, and citizens. The major areas of support are Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education, and English Language Acquisition. These programs emphasize basic skills such as reading, writing, math, English language competency and problem-solving.
The lessons are lively, interactive, and self-paced. Please visit the "About us" page to learn a bit about how the site is structured and what it has to offer both the teacher and the student, then tour the video introduction. I recommend that tutors go through the course to get lesson and curriculum ideas, as well as to see how you can assign homework to your student. Take some time to explore and get to know the site--there is a lot available in this rich resource.

The site offers multiple levels of English lessons, videos, listening, reading, and writing modules, and tests.

Help your student register and set up an account--this allows her (or him) to save and resume lessons and keep a cumulative record of test scores.

This is an excellent free resource. Many of our in-home students have computers for their school-aged chuildren but may not understand what need they have for them themselves. Others, particularly the Iraqis, are computer literate but don't know where to go for extra English practice.

Check it out and enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Fourth of July fun and fretting

Just a reminder that the sounds of July 4th weekend can be frightening to a survivor of armed conflict. Please read my earlier post about this by clicking here.

Wishing you all a safe and happy
Independence Day weekend!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Video lessons online

You don't need to be a technology wiz to bring multimedia into your language lessons. CRESL teacher Katie Collins recommended a Website that has a good collection of free ESL video lessons online.

The site, English Media Lab, presents a series of very simple speaking and listening lessons in either Flash or MP3 format. the site is best using the Internet Explorer browser, and not Firefox.

Simply choose a lesson from the list, and it will launch automatically. Students can study on their own if the have a computer (with speakers). there does not appear to be a way to save the videos to your computer.

The site has a distincltly British accent, but this should not cause any misunderstandings for the students.

This site also includes many ESL games, matching activities, and interactive lessons that will be beneficial for both the students and their teachers. Scroll down, click around, and check it out.

Happy viewing!

Monday, June 21, 2010

More from the Denver Post

Tina Griego recently wrote another Denver Post column following the resettlement of one of Denver's refugees. It is both encouraging and heartbreaking.

Deg Adhikari now approaches his ninth month of resettlement in the United States. He is not sure how time passed so quickly, though he is grateful it did. It means he has been busy, and busy is the friend of all settlers. A stranger in a strange land faced with empty time is likely to fill it with memory and longing. How can you explain yearning for a refugee camp, for walls covered by newspaper and meals of rice, rice and more rice? So, it is best to say none of these things but to speak of that which all humans understand. I miss my family. I miss my friends. I miss what is familiar, and almost nothing here is.

Yes, it is best to stay busy.

Click here to read the entire article.

What are you doing early on Saturdays?

We could really use some help with our Saturday's women's class at Grace Apartments. The class meets on Saturday mornings at 8:30 and finishes at about 10:00. It's a large class, but it's a hybrid class/tutoring situation.

The students meet in one room, but work individually or in small groups with the tutors. There is a lead teacher who presents the main lesson, and everyone follows up from there.

the class is lively, fun, not at all intimidating, and there is plenty of mutual support--for both students and teachers.

If you're interested, please send an email to Soon.

Get out and have some fun!

It's summer, and even if you're on a budget, there's plenty you can plan for yourself and your student. Many of Denver's cultural attractions offer free days to Colorado residents. Get your ID ready and take a trip right here in town!

1. Denver Art Museum
100 West 14th Avenue Parkway
Denver, CO

•January 2, 2010
•February 6, 2010
•March 6, 2010
•April 3, 2010
•May 1, 2010
•June 5, 2010
•July 3, 2010
•August 7, 2010
•September 4, 2010
•October 2, 2010
•November 6, 2010
•December 4, 2010

2. Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York St.
Denver, CO

•January 18, 2010
•February 15, 2010
•April 22, 2010
•July 22, 2010
•August 25, 2010
•September 26, 2010
•October 28, 2010

3. Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield
8500 Deer Creek Canyon Rd.
Littleton, CO

•January 1, 2010
•February 5, 2010
•March 5, 2010
•April 2, 2010
•May 7, 2010
•June 4, 2010
•August 6, 2010
•November 5, 2010
•December 3, 2010

4. Denver Museum of Nature & Science
2001 Colorado Blvd.
Denver, CO

•January 11, 2010
•February 21, 2010
•March 1, 2010
•April 18, 2010
•August 8, 2010
•August 30, 2010
•September 13, 2010
•September 19, 2010
•October 3, 2010
•October 18, 2010
•November 14, 2010
•December 6, 2010

5. Denver Zoo
2300 Steele St.
Denver, CO

•January 9, 2010
•January 18, 2010
•February 7, 2010
•February 16, 2010
•October 13, 2010
•October 21, 2010
•November 7, 2010
•November 13, 2010

6. Denver Center for the Peforming ArtsThe Denver Center for the Performing Arts offers free tickets to performances through a lottery system. To enter the drawing for free tickets, fill out the online form.

7. OK, not free but maybe worth a splurge. Swallow Hill Music Association offers an outdoor concert series in Glendale's Four Mile Park throughout the summer. The Shady Grove Picnic Series continues every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., from June 23 to August 25, presenting traditionally American folk & roots artists. Come with your family, your student, and a basket of yummy goodies, sit on the grass and enjoy a relaxing summer evening.

Tickets at the door: $10/$7 members; $2 for children 12 & under. Bicyclists get in for member pricing throughout the 2010 season! Click here for the lineup and more information.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Illustrating your point

When you create a lesson for your student, it's an excellent idea to use pictures when you can. Pictures are also good for making flashcards or using as part of a vocabulary lesson.

Microsoft clip art (included with MS Office or available online) has good collection of everyday themes. Click here to access the library online. Use the search feature at the top of the page to enter specific keywords, or look on the right side of the screen and click on a category to search by topic.

Another free and very helpful site comes courtesy of Florida's Educational Technology Clearninghouse. Click here to see more than 58,000 pieces of free clip art collected specifically for teachers. In fact, go to the FETC home page, scroll down, and explore the many free resources available in content area and ESL instruction. Great ideas here!

Do a Google search "free clipart" and see what else you can find. Many school districts and state educational systems have put together excellent resources, as have many homeschoolers.

To copy a picture quickly and paste it into a document,
  • right click on the picture with your mouse
  • select "copy"
  • return to your document and click where you want to place the picture
  • push the CTRL and V buttons together on your keyboard

To save a picture, right click on it and choose "save picture as."

That was easy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

From the Denver Post

Recently, the way refugee resettlement is funded has changed in Colorado and most other states. One result of this change is that less emphasis may be placed on the perceived value of refugees spending time attending English classes.

Kevin Mohatt, who has worked with refugees both at a resettlement agency and in an educational setting, wrote a guest Op-Ed piece that was published in today's edition of the Denver Post.

Please take a few moments to read this commentary. We encourage you to share your comments on the Post's Website.

A better lesson in English

By Kevin Mohatt
Posted: 06/03/2010 01:00:00 AM MDT

I work with refugees at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver. Last year, more than 2,000 of them made Colorado their new home.

They come from places like Iraq, Somalia and Bhutan, and look for a way to communicate at the Language Learning Center. When I greet them, most return my smile with a blank look, offering a crumpled piece of paper with a referral. Weakly, some will murmur: "Englesh."

Oumy came from Senegal. Though she spoke few words, she was eager to learn more. She studied every day and quickly learned enough English to find a job in a local ice cream factory. But Oumy yearned for more. She was able to pass the GED. After that, Oumy was accepted to study in an aircraft maintenance program on scholarship (she was the only woman enrolled in the program at the time). Throughout school, she kept her job at the ice cream factory.

Now, as a trained aircraft mechanic, Oumy will be able to comfortably provide for herself and her family.

Oumy's path to success in the U.S. started with learning English. For all foreigners, learning the language is the most important skill to obtain employment and support a family. Without adequate English, refugees would struggle for jobs and rely on cash assistance for longer periods of time.

Unfortunately, helping refugees like Oumy learn English may soon prove to be more difficult.

Click here to continue reading this article

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Listen and be inspired

(Photo: Colorado Public Radio)

In case you missed this edition of Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio, please take a few minutes to listen.

This year, African Community Center celebrated the occasion of ten refugee students graduating from high school. Each of the students also received $1,000 scholarship to put toward their college expenses.

For many of these students, just having the opportunity to complete high school is a gift on its own. To do so here--after having to first understand the culture, learn the language, and get caught up with the academic load--seems nothing short of a miracle.

When members of our community put their time and effort into helping refugee parents, entire families benefit. Most refugee parents will tell you that one of the things they value most about resettlement--a long, hard road, for sure--is the opportunity for their children to have a brighter future. This story is one example of how many small acts of kindness help shape a generation.

Click here to follow the link and be inspired!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Social Networking

We now have a page on Facebook. Take a second to "Like" us, and you'll get updates as soon as they're posted.

Use the FB page to ask questions, share pictures and stories, or start a discussion.

Looking forward to networking with you!

Click here to see our page.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Going on right now!

GEAR SALE (and food drive)
Friday April 30th

Your support helps to send refugee kids to camp! Big City Mountaineers is supporting 10 Refugee Youth Program participants for a weeklong trip to the mountains this summer !

Great deals on new and used outdoor gear!

Tents, sleeping bags and pads, headlamps, hats, beanies, water filters, water bladders, shoes, hiking boots, winter gloves, fuel, misc. camp gear, clothing, backpacks, daypacks & more.


When: Fri. April 30th
Time: 3pm 'til dark

BCM office
1667 Vine St
Denver, CO 80206

Bring with you: Cans of tuna, plastic jars of peanut butter, or summer sausage to help feed the hungry backpackers on our summer expeditions!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Training date set!

The next training session for new in-home tutors will be:

Saturday, June 5, 2010

8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Your application serves as your registration for training. If you already submitted your application, additional details about the training will be sent to you.

If you wish to become an in-home tutor but haven't applied yet, please go to our Website, to print out an application. The form is not electronic! Please do not try to modify the form or send it via email--our email system is very "attachment-hostile," and there is a strong chance that your message will be blocked from the system. Please send in your form via fax or regular U.S. mail. All of the contact information you need is on the form itself.

Please note that currently, the overwhelming majority of refugee students live in Aurora, east of I-225 and north of 6th Ave., although several are also housed near S. Parker Rd. and the I-225 park-and-ride facility (at Peoria).


Monday, March 8, 2010

Sisters around the World

March 8 is International Women's Day!

This day is commemorated worldwide, and although it started in the United States, it is no longer acknowledged here. The rest of the world, however, celebrates this day of sisterhood, empowerment, and recognition of the critical roles of women socially and economically.

Worldwide, women face oppression and social injustice in ways that men do not. On March 8, we take the time to remember how far women have come and far there is yet to go.

Photo UNHCRThis year's United Nations theme for International Women's Day is "Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All." This follows what a large body of research has already shown: When women are empowered, when they have more opportunities and choices related to their future and well being, entire communities benefit. Previous posts on this blog visited on this topic when we wrote about Nicholas Kristof's project, Half the Sky, and work of the Girl Effect project at

Many organizations have events scheduled for International Women's Day, including UNHCR. According to the UNHCR's Website:

In any refugee population, approximately 50 percent of the uprooted people are women and girls. Stripped of the protection of their homes, their government and often their family structure, females are often particularly vulnerable. They face the rigours of long journeys into exile, official harassment or indifference and frequent sexual abuse - even after reaching an apparent place of safety. Internally displaced women often suffer similar experiences.

In the last few years, UNHCR has developed a series of special programmes to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives. Special attention is given to forcibly displaced women who may face risks because of their specific circumstances, such as pregnant and lactating women, older women, and female heads of households

Women are active and positive change agents - when given the proper resources - and are capable of improving their lives and the lives of their children, families and communities.
Here is an excerpt from the A Little Something blog that details interesting projects focusing on women's empowerment:

Weaving together a community of hope

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Website currently features a story about a weavers' co-op in Bangladesh. Ethnic Chin refugee women from Burma are using their traditional weaving skills to earn their own money instead of depending on handouts from UNHCR or local Bangladeshis. the goal of the program is to empower the refugee women in the co-op as well as to help them become self-sufficient in a country where it isn't easy to do so. When women have their own money and they have the leeway to make choices for themselves, their families benefit, as well. This project rings a familiar note for us at A Little Something since our goals and beliefs are very much the same. Click here to read the entire story.

The Blue Sweater
The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World is author Jacqueline Novogratz's memoir of a life spent trying to understand and document global poverty. From her Website,,
It all started back home in Alexandria, Virginia, with the blue sweater, a special gift that quickly became her prized possession—until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing the sweater, with her name still on the tag inside. That her garment had made it all the way to Kigali, Rwanda, where she was helping a group of African women start a micro-finance bank, was ample evidence of the way we are all connected, and how our actions—and inaction—touch people every day
across the globe, people we may never know or meet. This awareness continues to
drive her efforts to fight poverty, and to bridge the gap between rich and poor.
Novogratz has managed to tie together her experience as a venture capitalist in developing nations with her idealism and optimism into a story that will inspire readers to look for ways to effect real change.

Women Leading for Livelihoods
Imagine our surprise at coming across this project on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Website. It was like reading a page from our own book, another telling of the A Little Something philosophy:

This UNHCR initiative is aimed at promoting the economic independence and
empowerment of refugee and displaced women and girls around the world. For WLL, women are not victims or passive recipients of aid; with access to the proper
resources, they are capable of changing their lives and those of their children,
families and communities.

Refugee and displaced women face a series of barriers to work: legal restrictions, physical and psychological trauma, lack of financial resources, child care issues, the wrong skills for their environment, and much more. WLL aims to break down these barriers through the funding of a full range of programmes aimed at empowering refugee and displaced women. Projects range from language and vocational training to classes on farming , marketing and computer literacy as well as basic courses in finance and how to get access to business centres and savings and loan schemes.
Read more about Women Leading for Livelihoods here.


The Women’s Crusade

The liberation of women could help solve many of the world’s problems, from poverty to child mortality to terrorism.

In August of this year, New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof and and investment banker Sheryl WuDunn wrote an extensive article about the plight of women struggling to survive and get a foothold on basic human rights throughout the developing world. Thanks to the availability of micro-finance business and development programs, women are making progress toward a better life, one at a time. The article points out the powerful effects of micro-finance projects and specifically addresses the benefits to women in parts of the world where they often suffer the most and have the fewest rights. With structured programs, small loans, and the opportunity to begin entrepreneurial ventures, women are changing lives far beyond their own.

To access the entire article, click here.

The article includes an audio slide show and a short video about women who are newly empowered and whose lives are being transformed by their participation in the micro-finance movement. Additional information about the Kristoff and WuDunn's Half the Sky Movement (get involved!) can be found here.

Finally, the UNHCR Website has some details about how this organization works to protect and help women. Please look on lower-right side of the screen for the slideshow about International Women's Day. (It's running very slowly today, but should lighten up later in the day.)

A recent article on the site struck a chord for those of us who work on the A Little Something empowerment program here in Denver. Here is an excerpt. Read the entire (brief) article by clicking here.

Urban refugee women teach themselves knitting - and self-confidence

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, December 7 (UNHCR) – A beehive of activity surrounds Kyu Manda as seven of her fellow Myanmar refugees bend over worktables in a small room in Kuala Lumpur, sewing Christmas wall-hangings and knitting Christmas tree ornaments.

"Right now we are learning how to knit Christmas decorations," says Kyu Manda, like the other women a member of the Chin ethnic group. "The women will take home these materials and finish the items at home," she adds.

Kyu Manda is coordinator of a self-help project for refugee women in Malaysia called Mang Tha, meaning "Sweet Dreams" in the Lai dialect spoken by some of the Myanmar Chin community. "We will be selling these items at Christmas bazaars, and 90 percent of the sales go back to the women," she adds.

All photos copyright UNHCR


Kenya (Somali girls)



Bhutanese in Nepal


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Refugee case managers

On Tuesday, January 12, NBC Nightly News featured a refugee-related story in its "Making a Difference" segment. The story is about an Iraqi woman--a single mom--who became a case manager once she felt comfortable in her own resettlement. This is a very nicely-produced piece that gives a good snapshot of why so many case managers were once refugees themselves. the next time your student tells you there is no case manager helping her, take a moment to think about what you see in this news story.

The story is about two minutes long, but there is a mandatory 15-second commercial at the beginning. You can watch from this screen, or click here to see the full-screen version on the NBC Website.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Rain Memories from Burma

As I've been preparing today's blog post, the temperature has been steadily dropping outside. My office is chilly, but I'm prepared for the trip home later today--I have my gloves, heavy coat, and extra-long wool scarf. As much as I dislike the cold and snow, I take it in stride because I know what to expect and how to prepare. Still, memories of the 2006 and 2007 Christmas blizzards have left me with Post-Traumatic Snow Disorder; that is, it doesn't take much to raise my snow-related anxiety level.

Our weather-related memories are part of us on an almost cellular level. At least when you understand what is or isn't normal, you tend to feel more in control of your own world. How we interpret what we see when we travel to a new climate is based almost entirely on the experiences we've had elsewhere. It is important to keep this in mind as we attempt to help newly arrived refugees adjust to their new environment. We all assume wrong at some point. Read on for some insight about how and why this happens. --SM

A snow shower or storm evokes reactions of glee from sledders, moans from drivers and shovelers, but terror from those unfamiliar with snow but familiar with cyclones. Please be aware of the fears and terror invoked during snow showers and storms where winds blow snow flakes and clusters laterally, sometimes almost to the horizontal. People unfamiliar with snow may equate winds that blow snow laterally with cyclones and other storms that have caused massive death and destruction in their tropical homelands. Snow and rain are both precipitation, but snowflakes are much lighter and are more easily (and dramatically) blown by wind.

I visited a Karen family during such a laterally falling snow shower. I was struck by the terror on their faces, blankets over windows, and their self-induced seclusion in their bedrooms. The daughter finally told me that trees were being uprooted by the snow storm. Upon further questioning I realized she was assuming that must be happening if the snowfall was lateral. They equated the winds that blew snow laterally with that of a cyclone.

Cyclone Nargis hit Burma in May 2008. The death and destruction affected the whole country and its memory still terrorizes people from Burma. Stories have emerged about Nargis survivors, especially children, who become paralyzed with fear whenever it rains. Many people in other areas lost family and friends. Others who were untouched were still affected by the terror, suffering and destruction and the inhumanity connected with Burma's ruling military's actions toward survivors in the cyclone's aftermath. This affected everyone from Burma whether or not they were or knew any victims.

During Burma's rainy season, June through October, it can rain for days and travel is very difficult. Malaria and other mosquito and water born illnesses flourish. Despite the heat and high humidity, upper respiratory infections (URI's) are very common during the rainy season. Chronic malnourishment contributes to these URI's and the many secondary pneumonia, skin infections and other sequelae we see as the exception in the United States.

The rainy season is also the time of year that large-scale and lengthy attacks by Burma's military repeatedly occur upon ethnic minorities. Civilians are not just driven off their land; they are also hunted down and raped, tortured and/or killed if caught. So, their escape into the jungle is fraught with multiple barriers to reaching safety, including rain, muddy terrain, constantly wet clothes, inadequate clothing and gear due to a hasty escape, the chill that accompanies constant wetness, forbidden warming or cooking fires that will send a signal of their location with the smoke, and forbidden crying, coughing or talking that may alert the hunting military.

Think of the emotions during the escape: Memories of the attack, seeing loved ones attacked or finding their body parts amongst ashes, not knowing who survived, having been attacked and/or raped, running while injured and suffering, being a child thrust into this world of constant fear and discomfort, having to run while in labor, miscarrying, or with a dying child.

These memories and fears may contribute, in addition to the extreme discomfort from the cold, to the reluctance of refugees from Burma to leave their homes during snowy or rainy weather. When I have taught English to refugees from Burma, I have been confused and frustrated at the lack of class attendance during the smallest of rain fall. Rain is a part of life in Burma, but memories of the Cyclone and lack of rain gear in a new environment contribute to their self-induced seclusion.

Our refugee clients don't want to be pitied. They felt weak and helpless during the hard times. Many don't want to revisit what they have been through to talk about it. Encouragement and acknowledgement of the strength that they had to possess to survive is essential.

Our awareness, patience, and information about snow and winter weather apparel may help ease the transition from fear or moans to glee.

Dr. Nora R. Rowley is a physician who practiced Emergency Room Medicine for 15 years, mainly in the Midwest. After leaving her hospital career to pursue humanitarian work, she volunteered with Doctors Without Borders inside Burma where she worked as a field medical doctor for six months.

Since returning to the U.S. in early 2007, she has dedicated a great deal of time to learning about the human rights crisis in Burma. She is currently on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Campaign for Burma(USCB)