In one year, due in part by the war in Ukraine and other disputes, the number of refugees worldwide from 2021 to 2022 jumped from 89.3 million to 100 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their home countries.
It’s World Refugee Day, and adult literacy and education programs nationwide are an important part of helping the influx of refugees coming to the US by giving them the English language skills that will make the transition here a little easier.
Tutors understand that they may never understand what someone who had to leave their home is going through, but they are there to answer the call.
For Lauren Powers, who has tutored at the Adult Literacy League in Central Florida since 2016, that call came about a year ago when Executive Director Gina Solomon was looking for someone to help a Ukrainian family who had newly arrived in Florida.
The family, who have asked not to be named, had been on vacation in Egypt when Russia invaded Ukraine. Unable to safely return, the family had to weigh their options of where to go. With their two elementary-aged children, and nothing more than what they packed for vacation, they were flown to Mexico.
Then the four of them walked two to three days to the US border.
“The kids knew something was wrong. If you can’t go home, something is wrong,” Lauren said. “But the parents worked really hard to make it an adventure and to soften it as much as possible.”
They had a connection with someone in Florida where they were invited to stay, so they went and shared one room until another family heard about their situation and opened their guest home to them.
In Ukraine, they left behind three businesses—one of which there is video footage of being blown up by a Russian rocket. Their family is still there as well as their dog, which Lauren tried to have sent to the US.
The family’s experience is nothing that Lauren or many of us born in the US can even relate to, which she attributes to luck—none of us have control over where we are from or the families we are born into.
“But, if you are lucky, it’s a moral obligation to give back and help create luck for other people,” she said.
So, when the call came to help the Ukrainian family get on their feet by helping them to improve their English, the only answer was yes.
Lauren said the wife already had a fair amount of English, but the husband less so. They started working with Lauren to improve on the skills they did have and quickly started to catch up. They enrolled in a class about how to open a business in America.
With plans to open an Amazon store to sell their prototype STEM toys, Lauren uses conversation about their business and life in the US to help them improve their English.
“They are interesting and interested people, so they have a lot of questions about American culture or things they saw or observed and wanted to understand it,” she said.
Despite the hand they’ve been dealt, Lauren said the family always looks for the silver lining. The kids are in school in a new country, learning a new language in a fluent way—and they get the experience of living abroad.
Refugees don’t have the luxury of planning ahead for a major move like this, but there are people like Lauren making it just a little easier.
“If you hear an accent in America, you should respect it,” she said. “That is somebody who took a risk or made difficult choices.”