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LOOKING WITH THE EYES OF CLAUDINE AND RESPONDING [GC PRIORITY 2] BY SERVING ‘THE NEEDS OF REFUGEES…’ [USA PROVINCIAL CHAPTER]

By Janice Farnham, RJM

For the past month, I have been a tutor for adult foreign students who are beginning ESL classes at Dorcas International Institute in Providence, which offers a variety of programs to refugees/immigrants.

At first, I had two women, but within three weeks, there were five!  I spend two hours a week with them, complementing their regular classes with basic conversation.  Their origins are as diverse as their dress:  Cape Verde,         Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, and Puerto Rico!  We spend the time in practical conversation [introductions, food shopping, going to the bank, etc.].  We also sing simple songs in English, which they enjoy.

I have been touched by their vitality and eagerness to learn, despite the painful burdens of trauma they carry from war, family separation, and other heartrending situations.  The fact that we are “just the girls” in the room permits spontaneity they cannot have in their mixed classes.  Those from the Middle East happily share food with all and the group describes it in five languages!  Their courage and hope are a light in our dark political times.

Since 1921, Dorcas Center [named after one of the holy women in Acts, “full of good works”] has offered a variety of learning and literacy experiences including basic education, citizenship preparation, employment assistance, and refugee/ immigration services.  These days, it is in the forefront of Rhode Island’s efforts to welcome recent refugees and provide them with basic services.  The Center is a busy, lively place – chaotic and colorful, empowering newcomers with self-sufficiency in an unfamiliar culture.  I am grateful to do my part to offer them a welcoming and friendly face.  My time there reminds me of the freedom I take for granted – a grace and a challenge!

– Janice Farnham, RJM – volunteer tutor, ESL Program for Refugees

(photo of Statue of Liberty with “Refugees Welcome” banner that appeared 2/21/17, from Instagram of Victoria Londero “Sheisvick”)