Real English needs your help!

Submitted by Laurie Fraser, OCISO’s Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Program Manager

Support Real English with a special 40th anniversary donation – thank you!

We need your support!

On “Giving Tuesday” (Nov 27) the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO) launched our 40th anniversary fundraising campaign, in support of a special newcomer language learning program called “Real English!”

Real English touches the lives of a unique group of newcomers to Canada: non-progressing language learners.

These students have already been in Literacy Foundation classes (the lowest possible abc class) for 3 years without success, meaning they were never able to move onto the next level of English classes.

Although they have attempted 3 years of full time classes, some are still unable to read more than a simple sentence. How can that be?

Students who don’t experience success in literacy class are part of a fragile and vulnerable group of newcomers who are elderly, managing chronic disease such as diabetes, and may have mental or emotional illnesses as well.

In our group of 12, we have one woman who is blind and another who is deaf (although when we put batteries in her hearing aids, turns out she is just hard of hearing).

The Real English class is entirely comprised of Bhutanese people who spent over 20 years in a refugee camp outside of Kathmandu in Nepal. They are all 50+ and they raised their children in this camp.

All of the Real English students are illiterate, meaning they had less than 7 years of schooling in their own language. In most cases, they had no education at all.

These students LOVE school! Their eyes are glued to the teacher, but academics have already proven to be too demanding for them. Real English works because it is learning by doing.

After all, a person who is unable to read and write can still learn English through spoken activities and kinesthetic learning.

Real English students have already made lip balm, baked goods, chanting bracelets and jack-o-lanterns. (They took the pumpkin innards home to make curry.) They travel as a group on OC Transpo, developing the confidence to someday, hopefully, use it on their own or with a friend.

Real English students are a big part of the school community, participating in holiday parties, special events, our famous rummage sale, community garden, enjoying coffee break and socializing with the rest of the 200 students in the school (their friends and families).

Real English also engages with the community by helping out the Childcare for Newcomer Children on-site, forming a community kitchen, connecting with the larger world (and home country) with computer skills and social media etc.

Here at OCISO we know our students well and sometimes their families too. When we had to exit non-progressing literacy students after 3 years, it broke our hearts. We knew they were going home to isolation, a feeling of failure and rejection.

However, that’s the way it goes- we have other literacy students on a waitlist, some of whom will travel quickly through literacy class and move onto mainstream learning and jobs. We have to think of them too.

That doesn’t mean we forgot the exited non-progressing learners. We applied for funds all over the place until we finally got funding this year from the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (ON government), which covers one class 3 mornings a week for 12 students.

We immediately went out to find “our people” and we did fill the class quickly with 12 learners, all of whom had been here before.

The regret is that our program is full and it is the only one in town.

Other schools and school boards would like to refer their non-progressing learners to us; they have nowhere to go. Those elderly people are at home today as you read this, isolated, with little or no English. The demand far exceeds our current capacity, but there are rooms available to be rented on the same floor and we would love to expand.

Our dream is to have a drop- in program 5 mornings per week. There would be several activities going on at once and students would be able to self-direct, learn useful skills such as sewing, and socialize as well. A drop-in is ideal as the students have health issues that sometimes interfere with attendance.

OCISO’s 40th anniversary fundraising campaign is being launched to help us expand Real English, to allow this unique program to touch the lives of many more newcomers and their families.

Thank you for your support!