Community-Based Learning

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Somali Partnership in Springfield

Dec 09, 2012 by Lauren Quirici

Uzma Hussain and Mahdiya Ahmed are two CBL fellows who work with the refugee community at the Somali Development Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.  Beginning with just one family, Uzma and Mahdiya realized that there were many more refugees in the area who had little or no access to resources, and decided to work on expanding the program’s reach.
     The CBL students meet with a group of Somali and Ethiopian refugees at the center each week to help teach them to read and to do arithmetic.  There are group members from the ages of three to sixty-something, and each individual is at his or her own level of progress.  The CBL fellows work to give each person the individual attention necessary to further their development.  During the session last Sunday, the group broke up into sections to teach colors and letters of the alphabet to the youngest children while the older group members worked on math.  On the same day, the oldest group member (a woman in her late 60s) reached a milestone when she learned to successfully write her own name.
      Uzma notes that once refugees arrive and are established in the US, the help that they received through the immigration process abruptly ends, leaving them to fend for themselves in a strange country without even knowing how to catch a bus.   Many are assigned new birthdays during the process, and are often unsure of their actual ages.  One girl (reportedly one of the most eager-to-learn members of the group) was refused admission to high school because of her age.  The girl herself seems unsure; according to her, she could be anywhere from age 16 to age 20.  Since she can't attend school, the CBL fellows are happy to be able to provide her with access to learning materials, instruction and guidance.  “She doesn’t even want to take a break,” Uzma says, reflecting on the girl’s determination to learn.  
The CBL fellows’ efforts help to provide this largely hidden community with a place to start and with some support as they make the difficult transition to life in the US.  In the coming semesters, Uzma and Mahdiya hope to put together an organized curriculum for the center and future CBL fellows to use as the program grows.


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