Over the past week, the Erie Times-News and GoErie.com have brought you the stories of those struggling with language barriers.
On Sunday, reporter Gerry Weiss took you into the International Institute of Erie and lives of some of the city’s immigrants.
Here’s an excerpt from his story:
“Before I learned English, I couldn’t get any job. I came here with huge hope to change my life and found I had no hope,” said [Mensura] Berberovic, who worked as a pediatric nurse in Bosnia before she fled her war-ravaged homeland. “Lack of proper language and interpretation can make damage on a person’s life. It’s not as tough today as it was for me when I came to Erie years ago. Now there is a lot more help for the newcomers.”
Our multimedia staff produced this video about the struggles of adapting to a country when you don’t speak the language:
Reporter Sean McCracken reported on
efforts by the Multicultural Community Resource Center to bridge the language gap through art.
By now you may be wondering, what can I do to help?
Every Monday evening at 6:30 p.m., an average of 30 people gather at the Blasco branch of the Erie County Public Library for conversation–in English.
“Cross Cultural Conversations” is the brainchild of librarian Daryl Kidder. Kidder, who worked at the reference desk, noticed that a lot of foreign-born residents were hesitant to use English–not bad at it, just hesitant.
Cross Cultural Conversations offers relaxed English conversation in a non-threatening environment. The goal: instilling confidence.
The program pairs native speakers with those who want to practice their English. Native speakers are mostly volunteers from the International Institute.
On the busiest nights, up to 46 people attend the meeting, but Kidder said the program has not even begun to scratch the surface.
“I’m happy with the turnout, but I know there is a bigger group of people who could benefit from this program,” said Kidder.
Attendees come from a range of backgrounds and ethnicities. Kidder said many are Bhutanese refugees, who learned English in refugee camps.
Kidder said she has also worked with Ukrainian, Korean and Chinese immigrants. Other immigrant populations, including the Somalian and Indian populations, have not been as active in Cross Cultural Conversations.
“Transportation is the biggest problem,” said Kidder. ” I just want more of the immigrant population to know [the program] exists and it’s free. We’re here, it’s free and it’s for you.”
And that’s where you can come in.
With current turnouts, Kidder said she does not need any more native speaker volunteers, but she is looking for help transporting participants.
If you are interested in attending Cross Cultural Conversations or getting involved in the program, call 451-6927 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.