Meet Alejandra & Jacque

Meet Alejandra & Jacque

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I came to OLC because… Alejandra: “I needed help with reading and conversation. My tutor is great, really helpful for me.” Jacque: “I had a lot of free time, so I wanted to have something extra to do. It’s wonderful. Having lived in Arizona, it’s really dear to my heart to help people, especially people from Latin America, that come to make a better life, to be able to speak well and communicate in [the U.S.] Alejandra and I have been working together for several months, maybe 4.” I’ve seen changes in these ways… Alejandra: “When I started [at OLC], I understood little and only knew a little bit of speaking, and I couldn’t read at all. Now, I can read some. I can understand more, and my speaking is growing. I’m really excited because it’s very interesting for me to speak other languages.” Jacque: “I’ve seen a great change.

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Meet Savannah

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“I first heard about OLC because I volunteered there three years ago over the summer. When I graduated [from college], I was moving back here, and I loved volunteering there, so I decided to apply for the Americorps position. I’ve been at OLC with Americorps since October. I’ve been teaching the beginning level and the pronunciation class. My pronunciation class has all levels; sometimes the advanced students come, but they also have a separate pronunciation class. I teach the beginning class in the mornings. I was an English major, so I know that words are really important. When people move here and the community is new to them, [literacy] really helps them to become a part of the community and to build relationships. It keeps them from being taken advantage of and allows them to take advantage of the systems that we have as well. Literacy is a way of

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Meet Miho

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“I started playing the violin, actually, at four years old. My parents are musicians. Of course, [one] can make friends in school, but music gives us an opportunity to make more friends. My parents had such a good experience and made so many friendships through music. My father is a baritone, a singer, and my mother is a pianist. So I wanted to choose a different instrument [she laughs]. After I graduated high school, I moved to Tokyo [Japan] for my studies. I went to a music college in Tokyo, and also started working as a freelance violinist. I liked this job because you get to experience many different music styles. I played in orchestras, did solos in concert, some gigs, of course, and some other recording sessions. My [U.S.] visa status was as a business visa to teach violin at the Suzuki music school, which is under the University

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Meet Lina

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“I’m from Shanghai. In July of [2009] I moved here with my daughter, with a visa. My mom’s still in Shanghai. I have a sister in Shanghai, and I have a son in Shanghai; he has a family. My mom is getting older; I miss her very much. Every year, I choose a time to go back, to see my mom and do something, see my close friends. I’ve been here [in the U.S.] almost ten years.

My friend helped me find a stable job at the University. She took me to see the boss, and they gave me an application. When I went there, they would say, ‘she’s very nice.’ They had respect for me, and I had respect for them. Until this year, I worked there. Eight years.

[I met my husband when] he came to get food from me [at my job as a cashier]. He came more times, and I thought, maybe he is interested in me! When he invited me to go to a restaurant, I said, ‘No—I don’t know you! I can’t go with you, I’m sorry.’ He’s very shy, but after five days he came by again. He didn’t buy food, he didn’t do anything; when I finished my work, he saw me, and said ‘Lina, I just want to talk with you.’ And we talked. And he was very nice. He came to Arkansas because he got a job as a professor at the University. My husband has a big heart. He tells me: ‘life is short—enjoy it.’

When I quit my job, I said, ‘I want to learn a musical instrument.’ So I learned the guqin [a traditional Chinese instrument]. I participate in a local festival, the Chinese New Year celebration. They dance. When I was young, I learned lots of dance; [people at the festival] know me, because I teach dance.

After I finished my job, I thought, ‘My English is not really good.’ I wanted [to know] more, because more [English] helps you feel that you can talk easily to people, comfortably. If you don’t know English, you feel very tight [nervous] inside. I came to [OLC] because it’s very beautiful, and very warm, [good] for families. The teachers, oh my gosh, very nice! So patient. I like them. It makes me feel good; some people don’t make money here, they teach for free! And we [the students] are not paying money. I like it here. It’s just like a family.

I need to understand English, so that my life here can be easier. Every time I watch the TV, the news is not easy to understand. My husband’s an American. I don’t care [about differences between the U.S. and China] because one day they will understand one another. I hope, slowly. In different countries, life is different, so sometimes countries don’t understand each other. I hope that they can help each other, to make a better life for the people [that live in them].

My daughter here, I hope she can get her citizenship. Citizenship in the U.S. is stable. If she can get a job here in the U.S., I hope that she can do something to help people.”

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.”

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.”

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