(Image courtesy MFSC)
Living in a new country can be a challenge and not speaking the language can make it almost impossible. But the graduates of a Mattapan program will have a leg up with the skills they gained through the classes.
More than 70 residents of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park celebrated the achievements they made over the past year at graduation ceremonies Wednesday for the Action for Boston Community Development. The program features classes in English for speakers of other languages, and also offers general equivalency degrees.
Participants, some of whom are recent immigrants from Haiti, celebrated their ability to better communicate and to become part of the wider community.
“I can now talk to my grand-kids,” said Anne Eeclesiastre, 74, a student in the program. Speaking English is "important for me because now when I go to my doctor I can talk to them.”
Wednesday’s ceremonies brought together students from The Mattapan Adult Education Literacy Partnership, which is led by the Mattapan Family Service Center, with the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Haitian American Public Health Initiative as partner sites.
“We want to build a community and give them [students] the tools they need so they can increase their involvement,” said Milly Arbaje-Thomas, director of the service center. “If they aren’t tied into the community they are isolated and don’t feel invested in the community.”
The classes, which bring together adult ESOL students from all backgrounds, are currently run out of three sites, but because of the success of the program it is being expanded to the Greater Boston Nazarene Compassionate Center in Mattapan.
“When I came here in 1987 I came with no English and it was very difficult,” said Pastor Pierre-Louis Zephir, founder of the Nazarene Compassionate Center. “Not knowing the language makes it difficult to find a job and be part of the community, and this opportunity we have here is the key for the Haitian community.”
Many involved with the program said the new skills are important to not only help recent immigrants become part of the community, but to help their own children succeed.
“You feel helpless when you can’t help your own child with their homework,” said Arbaje-Thomas, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic in 1983. “I know what it was like to have to translate for my parents and seeing them struggle was hard, but this partnership has helped.”
Along with the ESOL graduation the ceremony also included adults who worked to get their GEDs.
“After so many years of preaching to my kids about education I sat back and said ‘you have some nerve’,” said Dina Smith, 37, a Hyde Park resident who earned her GED Wednesday. “I couldn’t help them with homework and I was tired of watching life pass me by.”
The degrees and the new skills learned are extremely important, but many said the most important aspect taken from the program was the want to continue learning.
“The classes made me want to get up in the morning and learn,” said Smith. “Sometimes you learn and pick up things along the way, but you will always need an education.”