Meet Fanny

Meet Fanny

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“My name is Fanny. I will have been here in Arkansas for one year in January. I am a student at OLC, which I like because it gives me education in language. I’m very happy because I needed English; when I didn’t speak English, I had challenges, obstacles. I don’t feel good when I can’t speak English, and I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to learn everything, everything!

It’s very nice to be in Arkansas because the community is very, very nice. I’m living comfortably here. My neighbor is very nice. She helps me when I have problems. I had to renew my passport, and that was very nerve wracking. I asked my neighbor to help because you need a picture from the front, no smile; it is very strict. She said, ‘I don’t know all the rules, but let me check.’ She told me to go to the post office, but I didn’t want to drive. So she took me there, and waited with me. I needed her.

Here I have one family member, my niece. She is a professional; she works in Bentonville, at the hospital. And her husband works in Coca-Cola. They have two children. But I don’t have any more family here. I want to go to Florida, because in Florida, I have friends; I lived there a long time. Maybe in the future I can visit.

I was born in Colombia, South America. My city, Bucaramanga, is medium sized. It is close to Venezuela. Both of my parents passed away. I have six siblings; two sisters and four brothers. I moved to the U.S. for more opportunities. In my country, I was a professional; I was working. But I wanted this experience, to know about the culture of the U.S. I was married here for a long time, and I got residence; eventually we separated. I continued to live here because I like the United States. I’ve visited my country, but only a few times; my life is here.

Arkansas is very far away from Colombia. The food is really different; I miss the food in Colombia! We’d eat cassava, yucca, beans, arepas, empanadas, Dulce De Guayaba candies; delicious! There’s a lot to Colombia. Geographically, it’s very interesting; it’s like here, full of hills and mountains. It touches the two oceans, the Atlantic and Pacific. Colombia has poets, paintings; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Botero. They even discovered a malaria medicine in Colombia!

I like to go on the OLC museum visits, to see the art. The pictures amaze me. I like looking at the paintings and asking why they use that color, who is in the portrait, the season being portrayed. It’s beautiful. The guides are excellent; they are very kind and organized.  And the school [OLC] provides transportation, so I can go.

Spanish is composed differently than English. They tell me to think in English, because it’s very different! This school has excellent teachers. I’m very comfortable, and this school gives me self-confidence. Everyone here, the secretary, Mina [the program director], the teachers, are excellent people. They are friends. So I’m comfortable. OLC is the best school for learning English. Oh my gosh, there’s such a big difference [in my English] from when I first came here! Before, I wouldn’t speak to other people; I was scared, I would panic. Now, no more; I speak in front of people. This country is a good experience. Sometimes there are obstacles, but you push. It’s your life; you need to live it.”

 

Meet Pratiksha

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“I first came across the Ozark Literacy Council through my nonprofit marketing class [at the U of A]. In the class, I worked on a social media marketing project with OLC. In doing so, I discovered that my friends, who are also from Nepal, were taking class there.

OLC has impacted so many of my friends in Fayetteville. With the political climate that is ongoing, OLC is very open and welcoming which I love! Eventually, [I want OLC] to grow in other parts of the state and country, helping and accepting lots of other people. I would like to see partnerships with companies across country to help with sustaining job placements as well!

Not being able to communicate is very difficult and frustrating. Coming from Nepal, I’ve seen my mom struggle to communicate in English and I wish there were more places like OLC in other cities too. Adult literacy is important because it allows people share their experience and knowledge to help everyone around grow along with them. Immigrants who come to this country have a lot to offer, but can’t [get that across] because of the language barrier. It is important to bridge that gap, which exactly what OLC does.

I always will support OLC because of the immediate impact they have in many people’s life, welcoming and accepting anyone and everyone.”

Tutor and Student Pair in the News!

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KUAF recently interviewed one of our student-tutor pairs, Innocent and Michael! Michael and Innocent have both worked incredibly hard, making admirable progress as a team. Their collaboration exemplifies the great impact that the Ozark Literacy Council has in our community! You can listen to the interview here.

 

Meet Todd

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“I don’t know if I have a board job other than just being a board member. But my specialty is really leadership development and training, so I’m always able to bring those resources to the board. I’m also involved with various boards across the U.S. and globally, so I try to bring some of that expertise to the board as well. I’m really excited about taking my global experience and making local action.

Literacy should not be [limited]; it should be open and available for anyone who wants to tap into it. It shouldn’t be something that someone has to receive. It should be inherent that if one [wants] to acquire it, they should have that access. Dr. Seuss says it best: ‘The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the more places you’ll go.’ I believe that through exposure, you’re able to combat various barriers and challenges. Over the last five years, English has become the business language, globally. So English is not just here in the U.S., but also when you travel; it can be very helpful for connecting with leaders and creating engagement around the world. So it’s vital.

I think my vision for OLC is that we continue to live out our mission, and do that well. [I hope] to allow anyone who comes to Fayetteville that would like to learn English or to be able to establish their credentials around English to be able to get ahead in life, that they will be able to do that through us. [Ultimately] my vision is that all access will be there, that we won’t have to continue to work, because everyone will have that access.

[OLC] is a hidden jewel. A lot of people don’t know about OLC and the impact that it has; other boards have a lot more visibility. It’s very important to showcase our mission and the lives that we impact, because some of those lives get hidden. It’s like a lot of untold stories. The community [here] is very welcoming: open arms, open hearts, and open minds. Because you never know who’s going to walk into the door. I’ve always seen OLC be a community of love and a community of access. I describe it as a hidden jewel. I hope to lift it up, the beauty that’s in this place and the lives that we impact. I thought I should highlight that hidden jewel, because it shouldn’t be hidden.”

 

Meet Kim

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“I’ve been on the [OLC] board probably over a decade. I was told, ‘There’s this wonderful organization; you might want to get involved, as you’re a big proponent of literacy,’ so I checked it out. The first meeting I attended, I fell in love with the message and the mission of this place, and I’ve been involved ever since. Literacy is a door opener for people as they manage their lives. It allows people to obtain and succeed at a job; it allows people to shop for groceries to provide for their families; it allows people to read street signs and navigate a new environment. It is something that is required as someone becomes a member of a new community.

I am excited about OLC’s future as it continues to develop and meet the needs of the community. Right now, we serve so many people who are international, who are new not only to Northwest Arkansas, but to the U.S. It’s been great to see the workforce program develop, for example, and I think the partnership with the public school system has been wonderful. I have complete trust that our program directors will continue to identify the needs of the community and match that up with programming development.

OLC is a family. It really is. It’s a place where everyone’s welcome; it’s a place of hospitality. You can see the impact that it has on every single one of the folks who comes through the door. It really is a home for a lot of folks. [OLC] changes people’s lives. I’m just so proud to be a part of it. It makes families stronger, it makes people’s connections with the region stronger, and it helps them find jobs. They realize that Northwest Arkansas is their home, as opposed to just a place where they’ve landed.”

 

Meet Ezequiel

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Ezequiel and Ryann smiling with ice cream

From left: Ryann and Ezequiel

“I was born in Mexico. I am from Mexico, but came here for a better life, yes, for more opportunities. I moved here 15 years ago. My work is in construction; I do some different things. It has been 6 months since I started class here. I started in Springdale and then came here. Sunday and Monday [I take class] in Springdale, and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are here. I started at the beginning level, and I have improved by reading, writing, and speaking. I like the community here. In class we read, write, and talk with other students in groups.  I want to learn English; that is my first goal. I want to better my English, better my communication. It’s [important] everywhere; in the house, in the store, in the hospital.”

Ezequiel’s teacher, Ryann, also wanted to say a few words about his work as a student.

“Ezequiel comes to class five days a week and works full-time. He comes right after work. He wants to be able to use [English] at his job. At his job, there’s only one person in his group who can speak English and Spanish, so that guy [will translate]. He just wants to be able to move up in that, be able to communicate with people more directly.

He started as a Beginning [level] student, and has since moved up to Low Intermediate. You can tell when we do writing activities that he’s [started] creating  higher level sentences. He tries really, really, really hard. His company mentioned that they might have to switch jobs to Oklahoma, but he said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that, I want to stay here.’ So he feels comfortable in this learning environment and in this city; he has been able to learn English enough to claim this as his home.

He’s always thinking about what he is going to say before he says it. He loves talking with everybody too. It’s really great—lately he’s gotten into this habit where he’s started to bring snacks. He always brings two [containers] of fruit with chili powder on it, and two without. We’ve all tried it at this point. It’s really fun because [the snacks] will kind of bring everybody out to talk. I think he does it because he’s just a genuinely nice person—completely selfless.

Something that I really admire about him is that he works hard all day. He works in construction, and sometimes he gets there at 6:30, 7:30 in the morning, and gets off late. He never misses class unless work goes until 7. Even Sundays and Mondays, he’s there, he is the most consistent student. And I know that if he’s not there, he wishes that he were. One day, we were talking about things we like and things we dislike. The night before that, he had to miss class because his work ran late. And he just goes, ‘I don’t like missing class.’ So you can really tell that he wants to be here.  I admire his work ethic. It makes me think I should work harder [she laughs].”

Meet Ruby

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Ruby Photo “When I was hired as an intern for OLC, I had no idea what to expect. I was excited for the opportunity, looking forward to meeting everyone, and desperately hoping that I wouldn’t mess up too badly!

Since the moment I walked in the door on my first day, I have been overwhelmed by OLC’s radical hospitality and kindness. I immediately became a part of the OLC family; students learned my name, I was introduced to the Board of Directors, and my coworkers and I began to collaborate. As I have learned, I am not the only one who feels that OLC is special. Everyone that I have asked—students, volunteers, board members, or staff members, during or outside of interviews—feels and cherishes the community of OLC every day. Students are happy to be here and learn, and staff and volunteers love working and serving. Before, after, and in between classes, the students all sit around our welcome area table to drink coffee (or tea) and chat. Some students love it here so much that they end up giving back to OLC in the form of donations or volunteering. Many see it as a second home.

The other thing that has most amazed me about OLC is its stories. Through my work on the “Humans of OLC” project, I have begun to understand the importance of literacy in an entirely new way. In my first week on the job, I talked to a man who needed to learn English in order to verify his medical license in the U.S. With no work as a doctor, he had trouble feeding his young daughter. In that same week, I also learned how the joy of volunteering at OLC changes lives; many of our tutors work here full-time for years on end. Recently, I found out that one of our students got a local job because he had learned enough English to do an interview. In French, he told me that he hopes to provide English resources to other refugees in the future.

You don’t often think of a job as a gift. Yet what I have received in the last eight weeks is much more than experience (though I have received that too!). It is love, understanding, and hope. I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding way to spend my summer.”

Meet Jenna

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“I actually first came [to OLC] because I had taught ESL internationally. I think that our students bring a lot to the community, and I can play my part by welcoming them to my country and just being a friend to them, and a teacher…helping them learn society here and culture here. Paul, the longtime OLC tutor trainer, said to me, ‘You should think about Americorps!’ I started in January, which is kind of weird because most Americorps members started in September. So I just kind of jumped in.

[What] makes my day every day is just seeing students, when they’re like, ‘I’ve done something really small,’ like a small accomplishment, but to them it’s so big. Or seeing their faces light up when you say, ‘Good job, you did it!’ A lot of times, when they are able to relax, that’s really nice. You can see them learning better when they’re able to just laugh and have fun. That encouragement is my favorite part [of my work], whether by me or by other students.

I used to think that literacy was just being able to read. But that’s not all. It involves everything; being able to communicate, being able to read, yes, but also to understand what [the text] means, to understand all the words, to be able to use that in real life…so I think that translates to every area of your life. If you know language, that is life. It translates to all areas of life.

One thing I really love [about OLC] is that it’s welcoming. The students enjoy it here. The staff is so welcoming; they always say hi; the students can stop in their offices and the staff will stop what they are doing to [greet them]. Even old students [stay in touch]. [Longtime teachers] will say, ‘I had a student contact me from 8 years ago!’ It’s because they felt so welcomed here. And I feel the same way. I can also translate that to my students. When a new student comes in, they are like, ‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ It’s like a family. That’s a big plus about this place, and I think that’s why we keep getting growth.

I think something I would like to see is more education for those who are not internationals, or more education from an international [perspective] to the community, because sometimes people don’t understand. [At OLC,] everybody’s learning; even the teachers are learning.”

 

 

 

Meet Mina

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“2004 is the first time I came to the United States. I have a Master’s degree in English education and English Literature was my Bachelor’s, so I was working at the university in Korea as an ESL instructor. My professor really wanted me to get a doctorate degree [in the US] so that I could work as a professor. So, that was my original plan. And then, instead of pursuing my doctorate degree, I got married. I wanted to have a baby in Korea, so I went back. I came back [to the US] in 2007, so from 2007, I’ve been here. That was the first year that I started [at OLC]. [Eventually] I became program director, which I have done for 10 years.

My favorite part of my day is interacting with volunteers, people with a passion for helping others, and students, who are in the same situation as I was when I started to learn English. I really feel like I’m helping because of my own experience learning English as a second language; I understand exactly how they’re struggling. Interacting with the students is a big part of my job; [I also] work with volunteers, telling them what the student is actually looking for, matching them. Sometimes they develop a friendship. Working with the students and volunteers is the core, key benefit of my job.

Literacy, to me, is independence. If I didn’t speak English, I’d have to rely on somebody. [With literacy] I can make my own decisions, instead of relying on a translator. It is a stepping-stone to better my education; because I can read and write, I can get higher education, which means more opportunity. Language is a tool [for students] to understand each other, culturally and everything. So whether you improve your English or not, you’re showing that you’re interested in learning, opening up your heart, and that makes [others] more willing to understand your culture, what you’re trying to say.

We want to welcome everybody, whether they are interns, volunteers, or students. We just open the door, like, ‘we don’t know what your goal is, but we will help you.’ A lot of students tell me that it goes beyond school; you can find friendship here, you can find a mentor, you can find different cultures. [One of our students] was a medical doctor in China; he cleans our building because he wants to give something back to our community. Sometimes volunteers come just to enjoy a coffee, because there are always students speaking all different languages, like music. People here are willing to share, willing to help, willing to understand. It’s not only just one thing. That’s what I want to continue to accomplish.”

 

Meet Andrea

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“I’ve been on the OLC board for over two years this year. I got involved initially through a friend; I told her that I wanted to do some more volunteer work. I had done a lot of volunteering with the Center for Equality and the Red Cross, but I had stopped because I was concentrating on grad school. She said, ‘You read a lot.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘You know literacy’s important, right?’ I was like, ‘Of course it’s important!’ She said, ‘You can get involved [at OLC], I can make that connection.’

I joined as a general board member, then I was elected secretary. When it was time to get a new slate of officers, it was actually proposed to me to consider [being Chair], and I decided to do it because I thought it would be a good way to learn what it was like. I’ve done a lot of nonprofit work, but this is my first time on a board. I joke around, like, ‘You guys must be pretty desperate if you want me to do it,’ because I’ve never chaired a board before, but I’m happy that they’re trusting me. I see Ozark Literacy Council really engaging our donors and gaining more than we’ve ever had. We should be more visible, more seen. I think we need that, because the work we do is so important. The people that come into the building, it’s like a family, for sure. I know what it’s like to feel like an outsider. So if you come in and it’s like a home, I just want that for even more people. I see the program growing, and I’d just like to see more of that. Considering the small staff we have and all the volunteer work that goes in, we make a huge impact.

Literacy, to me, is a way to understand and empower. For instance, if you can’t understand the language in documents or the things in your world that really affect your life, it really diminishes your access to resources. I think of our Tyson program, where we have people who are working really hard and supporting their families. There are just parts of the culture that they work in, the business that they work in, that they just weren’t able to understand because of the language barrier. So, I think that it’s about quality of life, but also about fully understanding what’s going on around you.

My favorite author is Neil Gaiman. Reading is like an escape for me, and he has a way of writing that really turns off the outside world. I like that. Also, some of the language he uses is very intellectual and next-level. I’ve been  reading his books before and come across a word I don’t know and I’m like, ‘I’m going to go look that up.’ It makes me smarter, it just does. And it’s cool to be smarter.”

 

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