Service Learning

            I loved completing my service learning hours. When I heard we were going to be working with refugees, I was so excited. There is a special place in my heart for refugees and people from other cultures. This wasn’t my first experience working with refugees but it was definitely one of my favorites. Because my father and his family were refugees, my parents instilled in us at young age how important it was to help these people who had left their families and homes and cultural securities to try to improve their situation.

            Recently, a group was added to our church because of the inpouring of refugees that speak Swahili. My family and I have been blessed to help teach English to a family from the Congo. I go with my mom and another lady from my church to help them learn. We meet every Wednesday night and spend a couple hours together reading, speaking, writing, and practicing conversational English.

            It has been so interesting to see the cultural differences and how they have contributed to the language learning process. Josephine, the mother, still dresses in complete Congo attire.

 (Josephine practicing reading)

She wears the colorful dresses and head scarves every day. As we have been teaching her, she has a great understanding of grammar and the ability to read and write. However, her comprehension of English is limited. Intellectually she has the best grasp on the language and is very good at understanding the concepts, but her colloquial abilities are limited. I’ve always heard that the younger you are the easier time you have learning another language, but this has been the first time I have witnessed it first-hand.

Vumilia is the oldest child and adores my mom. She is always playing with her blonde hair and frequently cuddles up to her while they are reading. Vumilia speaks very well and has been able to be a primary provider for her home because of her English skills. However, her reading, writing, and understanding of grammar Is very weak. She has learned English by immersion, by being surrounded by speakers at her job and through the media. While we speak with her a lot and it is easy, the main thing we work with her on is reading. She loves working with my mom and she is constantly attempting to text her (which is good practice of course) and calling her even after we leave. It has been so interesting to see a child be the primary provider for the family. It is such a foreign concept for us here. I know people that are still living at home and being provided for by their parents even when the time they are 30. In other cultures, it seems that the children contribute a lot to the parents. I see this with my husband in the Samoan culture, my dad in the Armenian culture with his parents, and then again in the Congo culture with this family. It was a really hard concept for me to grasp at first. I thought of how ashamed I would be as apparent if I relied on my children to provide for me. But as I have observed other cultures, it is beginning to seem appropriate. The parents gave them everything that they have, and once the children are able to begin trying to repay that graciousness they are willing to work and look out for their parents and for each other.

  (Vumilia and my mom)

  Angelique is the second oldest and currently in high school. The level of English understanding and colloquial ability is highest with the youngest of the family. When we work with them, it is again more focused on reading and grammar rather than teaching them to speak English. With Angelique, most of her focus has been on learning American culture and the ways of teenagers in high school. She is interested in dressing like an American, speaking like an American, and behaving like an American. She is always asking me what different slang words mean because she hears them often at school. It was confusing how “sick” meant something more than just being physically ill, it meant being “cool” or “awesome. ” My favorite experience with her happened when we had their family over for Sunday dinner. We have them over often jus to be together and use the opportunity to talk and interact. She has beautiful braided hair, and I was commenting on how gorgeous it looked. I asked her, “do you think I could pull it off?” She immediately grabbed her hair, and shook her head with fear saying “no, no, no please don’t pull it off!” I tried not to laugh as I explained what is meant by “pulling something off.” I told her I was asking her if that hairstyle would suit me or look good on me. Her answer unfortunately stayed the same even after understanding what I was asking, “no, no, no.” (Sunday dinner)

                      The boys of the family, Jimmy and Jeramiah don’t work with us much. They are younger and in school and have a good understanding of English and reading as they have spent their younger years here. I think my favorite thing about different languages and cultures is seeing the things we have in common. There are so many things that transcend language and cultural barriers and I find myself fascinated by it. I love when humor comes through even in their second language, and they find ways to be themselves even if it isn’t the original way they might have said something. We have my grandpa come over for dinner with them as well, and the boys are so respectful to him. They dish his plate and take care of him like he was their own family. After dinner, they help clean up and then somehow we always end up having a dance party. The boys end up laughing about the way I dance, but we all find ourselves having the best time laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

 (the Bukara family was very polite and acted like they enjoyed the salad….)

            I am so amazed at these families that have so little and yet are willing to give so much. Even though we feel like we are the ones serving them by helping them learn English, I am in awe at how much they do for us. They always bring treats or little trinkets that they want us to have to remember them by. They offer to give us anything we could want that they might have. It is so touching to see that even though financially they might struggle, they are the most giving people.

            I have grown to love this family so much. What started out as just service to help them learn English, turned into a great relationship. We have them over for dinner every few Sundays just so we can be together and foster our relationships. I am so grateful for the chance I have had to work with this amazing family, see their progress in the English language, and learn from them how to be more loving and giving as a Christian.


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