Imagine leaving your home and moving to a country that doesn’t share your customs, where you can’t understand the language and where you have to re-learn basic life skills in order to survive in your new context.
Most immigrants and refugees living in the United States don’t have to imagine these challenges. Learning to overcome linguistic, cultural and social barriers is just part of their reality.
For a variety of reasons, women often experience unique obstacles to healthy adaptation. The St. Louis-based Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program (IRWP) seeks to help participants as they navigate these obstacles.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined by Sarah Paradoski, IRWP’s program coordinator, and Ramona Marshall, one of the organization’s volunteers.
Volunteers like Marshall are paired with individual students for one hour of in-home tutoring every week. Students can learn English, practice for citizenship tests and develop basic skills necessary for grocery shopping, handling transportation and finding employment.
“It’s really not just about teaching them English but about making that bridge,” said Marshall. “It’s about incorporating them into the community and making them feel like more of a part of the community.”
Since Marshall started volunteering with IRWP seven months ago, she has been working with a woman who came to St. Louis as a refugee from Eritrea. Although the woman had been in St. Louis for over nine years when she met Marshall, she couldn’t speak English and almost never left her home at an assisted living facility.
Now, Marshall says her student can count to 500 and is comfortable enough to make trips to the store or doctor’s office on her own.
“I think the beauty of the program – of working one-on-one, of building that relationship – is fostering that self-confidence in them and giving them a safe space to practice and learn and just be encouraged,” said Paradoski.
This one-on-one structure allows weekly sessions to be tailored to students’ individual needs, but it also creates a high demand for volunteers. There are about 150 students currently enrolled in the program, with 90 more waitlisted or in-between teachers.
Volunteers do not need to meet any kind of experience or language requirements in order to get involved. IRWP will provide the necessary training before matching individuals with students based on their personalities, schedules and locations. If you would like to learn more about the program, call (314) 771-1104 or visit their website here.
“The biggest thing is just kind of connecting as a human being,” Paradoski said. “I think that our volunteers find out pretty fast that they have more in common than they have differences.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.