Imagine being forced to move from country to country for safety, ultimately settling nearly 7,000 miles from your home. That is exactly what happened to Basi Khareef. Because of the war in Darfur, Basi moved to Syracuse, New York, in December 2012, after living in Libya for 10 years and then in a Tunis refugee camp for 16 months.
At the age of 44, he arrived in a foreign country with no family or friends, barely able to understand English.
Although Basi feels more safe and secure in the United States, starting his new life was hard. He’d never seen snow before and was unprepared for the harsh winter climate. He also had no job opportunities because of the language barrier. Unable to fill out job applications or communicate with English speakers, Basi could not continue the work he had in Libya as a furniture upholsterer or tailor.
“For the first couple months, I just went to English classes. Then I went home. I went nowhere. I could not do anything,” says Basi. The unhappiness of these months still makes him sad.
Before coming to Syracuse, Basi had taken a few English language classes but the majority of his education was taught in either Arabic or his native language, Zagaw. Upon his arrival in Syracuse, the Syracuse Refugee Assistance Program placed him in English language classes in the Syracuse City School District. In one of those classes, he met Kofi Addai, program coordinator at ProLiteracy, who was teaching computer literacy. Kofi recommended GED preparation classes at ProLiteracy.
About three months ago, Basi decided he was ready to take on these classes. He studies reading, writing, and math, but enjoys focusing on his English pronunciation skills. Because he is very soft spoken and struggles with pronunciation, he sometimes prefers writing what he wants to say instead of verbally expressing himself.
Besides taking English classes, Basi also enrolled in a food safety certification course. After passing the course and getting certified, the Syracuse Refugee Assistance Program worked with Basi to find a job. He now works at Café Kubal preparing food. Café Kubal believes in making a difference in its surrounding community by working with local organizations.
Basi started working at Café Kubal part-time and was recently asked to work full-time. He wants to be able to support himself, but also wants to continue his classes at ProLiteracy. This conflict between needing to work full-time and wanting to continue his English language instruction concerns him.
“Now I work Mondays through Fridays from eight to three. Right now, English and GED classes at ProLiteracy end at three, so I don’t know when I can learn,” says Basi.
Basi is not alone in his struggle to work while trying to further his education because it’s something that many adult learners face. The situation can be extremely stressful, but when immigrants have access to language and literacy instruction, they integrate more quickly and effectively into communities and become more engaged in the economy. Basi hopes this will soon be his reality.
“Learning is very hard, but I want to get a good job and change my life,” says Basi.