English Class in Spartanburg Provides a Safe Haven for International Refugees

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Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd

The Adult Learning Center’s English class in Spartanburg, South Carolina has started welcoming international refugees from such far-flung countries as Ghana, Kazakhstan, Congo, Laos, and Ukraine to help them works towards a GED. In doing so, refugees have the opportunity for a second chance at a better life in the United States.

Spartanburg has become a safe haven for refugees even since it became part of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program in early 2015. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Refugee Resettlement programs uses public and private non-profits groups to provide economic relief and social integration services to refugees through grant programs.

World Relief, a Christian-based, nonprofit humanitarian organization, is also ushering refugees into Spartanburg. By linking refugees up with local church members and volunteers, World Relief strives to soften the refugees’ transition into their new environment.

Resident English teacher, Jana White told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in an article published on September 9th, 2015 that outside the classroom students are eager to participate in cultural immersion by job searching, riding public transportation, and dining in local restaurants.

Despite Spartanburg’s interest in providing an educational sanctuary for incoming refugees, the resettlement program’s selection process and funding sources has prompted scrutiny. And even though Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard travelled to Spartanburg in August 2015, criticisms remain.

Yet amid voices of discontent, refugees continue to embrace the chance to learn English. In fact, Congo refugee students participating in White’s English for Speakers of Other Languages class even claim they are learning to speak English with relative ease. Most of the Congo students are already multi-lingual and are fluent in Lingala, Swahili, and French. As of yet, none of the Congo students have been successfully employed, but with the help of English teachers such as White, they remain as hopeful as ever.