Local Organizations Unite to Help Afghan Refugees Learn English

Bridgeport, CT - Each year refugees seek safety in our country, often arriving with nothing more than a suitcase, and struggling with our language. That’s why the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee (IRRC), Fairfield County’s Community Foundation (FCCF), Housatonic Community College (HCC) and its Foundation banded together to help develop the English communication skills of an Afghan family fleeing the Taliban.

This summer, three members of this family are taking English as a Second Language (ESL) courses at Housatonic Community College to improve their English and progress towards their longer-term professional goals. Six family members also completed ESL classes this past Spring at HCC. Funding for their tuition was provided by the Immigrant Success Fund at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, as well as via student summer scholarships provided by the Housatonic Community College Foundation.

For refugees of non-English speaking countries, language is a crucial means of assimilating into their new culture here in America.  However, learning a new language is not an easy task.

“We are honored to play a role in helping this newly arrived refugee family successfully integrate into our community. Some of our HCC scholars come to campus needing ESL support, and our passionate educators are dedicated to academic instruction to improve their English communication skills,” said Dr. Dwayne Smith, CEO of Housatonic Community College.

Many of the adults in the Afghan family here, which consists of a father, mother, five adult daughters (ages 18-28), a son in-law, and three children (ages 8, 5 and 2) held professional positions. The father held a senior position with a women's rights organization, and the young adults were human resources and communications professionals, teachers, doctors in training, and college students. Their efforts contributed to strengthening Afghanistan’s democracy, and attracted the wrath of the Taliban.

The IRRC is run under the auspices of IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), New Haven.  IRIS pioneered a new model called ‘community co-sponsorship’ as a private sector response to refugee support. The IRRC, consisting of volunteers from three churches, two synagogues and two mosques across Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield, is working to provide services such as housing, social services, medical services and employment for the family.

“Our team of volunteers has provided guidance as family members became acclimated, found employment in their fields, and studied English.  We have continually been inspired by their determination, keen intelligence, kindness, hospitality, graciousness and optimism.  While the family has coped with immense change over a very short period of time, we have been the beneficiaries, sharing cups of tea and learning about Afghan culture and traditions from our Afghan friends,” said Ann Marshman, IRRC volunteer and team leader.

Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, which seeks to close the opportunity gap in Fairfield County, addresses the structural and cultural issues that contribute to disparities, particularly for Fairfield County’s immigrant population. Its Immigrant Success Fund concentrates on improving wellbeing, building capacity and positioning immigrants to achieve success.

“Strong communities make it possible for their newest members to succeed and thrive,” said Fairfield County’s Community Foundation President and CEO Juanita James. “That’s why we’re committed to supporting Fairfield County’s refugees and why we’re proud to partner with the Interfaith Refugee Resettlement Committee and Housatonic Community College on this important and timely effort,” said Juanita James, FCCF President and CEO.

By working together, these organizations are helping this refugee family to build lives here, and at the same time, strengthening our own community. 


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