April 12, 2024

My pad of paper was blank. Pen in hand, ready to write… but no words to put down. I was listening to problems I had no solutions for. Listening to challenges I could not fix. I sat there, eager to jot down a million notes and ways that we could step into the mix and meet a need… but I was coming up empty-handed.

The problem?

So many of our adult refugee friends come to America illiterate in their native tongue. So many of them have never learned to read or write in their own language. They have never been taught in a classroom setting. For some, it was actually illegal to speak, read, or write in their native language. And then they come here and they must work to earn money to provide for their families. It’s almost the first thing that happens. Get a place to live. Get a job. Work to survive. Work so your family can survive. There’s no time or bandwidth left to learn a new language.

“So, what’s the big deal?” You may be wondering. “Lots of people live in America without knowing English, right?” Yes, but it’s hard. Really, really hard. Isolating and hard. Just go through your normal day and consider how different things would be if you didn’t speak, read, or write the language.

Also, you have to know English to become a citizen of the United States. “…the foundation skills are speaking/listening, reading, and writing English, along with locating and using information needed for the naturalization test.”

And so what results are countless individuals living in a perpetual state of limbo. Living in the fear of being sent back to unsafe places. Dealing with the reality that certain rights may never be theirs. Existing with the feeling that their dignity will never be restored, that they may always be considered “less than”.

After days of mulling over this, I’ve grown unsatisfied with feeling helpless and I’m ready to take action. But, I need your help to do it.

So much of a refugee’s journey to success depends on them learning English. We have to put more resources here. I’m far from being a human who has any sort of degree in teaching English as a second language. But, I am a human with a heart. I am someone who longs to bring about restoration and dignity to those who are often overlooked, forgotten, or even treated as inferior.

If you’re anything like me (and I think many of you are)… together, I believe we can change the narrative for hundreds, if not thousands, of our refugee friends.

So here’s the plan:

Bolster our English Buddy program. This requires many of you stepping into a volunteer space to befriend a refugee individual or family. In a dream world, every single family we know would have a “buddy”. This means giving an hour or two of your time each week for one year. It doesn’t mean that you need to know about grammar or sentence structure. It simply means that you show up. You point to pictures or objects, use hand motions, and say short words. You wade through the awkward silences and you prove to be someone who cares enough to fight through the language barrier to meet the person on the other side. And, over time, you’ll see progress. You’ll teach them how to adapt to the skills necessary to live in the United States, using the English required to do so. And, they’ll teach you. They’ll teach you about resilience, hope, and joy. They’ll remind you that, even on the darkest of days, not all is lost. You will laugh. You will cry. Maybe together. But, you’ll both be different… you’ll both be better. (Don’t worry, you’re not in this alone. You’ll be given resources, training, and ongoing support.)

Increase our English Class Offerings. We are working to increase our English Class capacity in the fall – transforming our new preschool building in the afternoons and evenings into a place of adult learning. For this to happen, we will need more teachers (those of you with acronyms after your name) and childcare volunteers. We may need a few drivers to help people get to class. Keep your eyes peeled for how you can help in this area in the coming months.  

Increase our Recurring Giving. In order to grow to meet the needs of our community, our budget also has to increase. We are working hard to develop relationships within our community, to find a steady base of regular givers. You may not be at a place where you can give substantial time, but maybe you could handle a $25, $50, or $100 monthly donation. When we have gifts we can count on, it allows us to make wiser programming decisions for the future. Instead of hoping for one-off donations to magically appear in the mail (although we are VERY grateful for those, too), a repeat gift lets us plan better and more effectively. 

Send your child to City Preschool. Our cross-cultural preschool may be the perfect opportunity for your little one. When you enroll your 3-5 year-old, not only will your child be helping their peers (those with a refugee background) learn English, but their lives will also be enriched by other cultures and traditions. It will also give YOU, the parent, an opportunity to meet and know some of our refugee parents. When you drop off and pick up your child, when you come to activities and events for our preschoolers, it will pave the way for organic friendships with refugee neighbors to form.

Find More Partners in the Community. If you or your organization is already making efforts to increase English capacity in the community and we are not partnering with you? Let me know. The more we can do together, the more effective we can be.

We can do this.
Slowly, over time… person by person, family by family. Together. United, even in the midst of our diversity.

Let’s teach lots of English within the context of meaningful relationships that change us all.

Debbie Beal

Downtown CoMO and Cafe Berlin present Paint and Sip benefitting City of Refuge! Artist Adrienne Luther Johnson will lead participants through a painting inspired by the sights of Columbia, MO. Grab a friend, or two, and join us for an evening of art, cocktails and fundraising!

▪ Held at Cafe Berlin on Tuesday April 23rd from 6:30-8:30PM
▪ All supplies provided
▪ First drink included with ticket purchase

Grab a cozy, light weight crewneck in support of City of Refuge! Each sweatshirt is $20 and 100% of the proceeds go to support refugees in our community! Purchase your crewneck at the link below or at City Boutique.

Thank you!

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