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.

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