By Annette W., Former Progreso Volunteer Instructor
One of my students, an elderly woman who ran a small market in Central America, was shot in the face one day while working. She comes from El Salvador, which is plagued by gang violence and has one of the highest per capita murder rates in the world. After that terrible incident, her son brought her to the United States to escape the violence.
Another student told me how she lost everything she had to violent criminals and thieves as she was crossing through Guatemala on her way to the border between Mexico and the United States. They took the little money and belongings she had forcing her to return home and postpone her journey for a future date.
The Center offers a safe place for these women and others who have their own stories of struggle and hardship. At Progreso, immigrants come together to pursue a common goal: to improve the quality of their lives and their families’ lives by learning English, preparing for the Citizenship exam, integrating into their communities, and embracing the American dream. For many, the positive socialization and sense of belonging they experience here at Progreso are an antidote to the traumatic experiences they’ve endured. These are key factors in their committed participation and regular attendance in classes.
Since then, she has worked hard to study English and learn about the culture and history of her new country. In the process, she has found not only her voice, but meaningful friendships and a strong support system. She now actively participates in her children’s school conferences and medical appointments. She has made good friends at the center who encourage and help her as she moves closer to realizing her goal of making a better life for herself and her family. She has submitted her application for naturalization and is preparing to take the citizenship exam to become a U.S. citizen. She and I are working together to identify and work on any skill deficits she may have with respect to the exam criteria so that she can feel confident and is positioned for success going into the test which is scheduled for December 2017.
Many of the students, like this woman from Pakistan, are extremely dedicated and make every effort to attend classes on a regular basis. Teachers for their part work hard to make their lessons relevant and fun for their students. In addition to teaching the basics of English, lessons are driven by student requests and input. Based on my students’ needs, I have centered past classes on practical family life issues, such as preparing for a job interview, interacting with a boss, and engaging a teacher in a parent teacher conference. To stay current and sharpen their skills, teachers are offered ongoing adult literacy training opportunities and professional development courses available through proliteracy.org, as well as conferences and seminars offered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. I have taken advantage of both and have found them to be incredibly helpful.
The combination of student commitment and teacher dedication at Progreso is a powerful one and creates a positive environment for learning and social interaction. It is extremely fulfilling to watch as Progreso’s students gain greater self-sufficiency while building support and social networks that help them become more involved and engaged in their own communities.