International Rescue Committee working to transition refugees coming to the Capital City

By: Sophia Hernandez | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 17, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Think about this: You are 14 or 15-years-old. You are moving to a new country, don't know the language, the customs or culture of where you now live.

That's where the International Rescue Committee in Tallahassee comes in to help.

In February, the group created it's first literacy program. Now, 44 Congolese students and counting from grades 6 to 12, are not only learning English, but also ways to transition into American society.

It was a beautiful sunny Sunday. You could here the stroke of the pencil on a math worksheet as Tommy Thompson began his math lesson. The lesson was a gift from the heart to Eric and Emmanuel Joseph.

For Eric and Emmanuel, these simple tutoring sessions are a reminder of their new lives. They moved from Uganda to the United States just five months ago.

Habariugiria Joseph is Eric and Emmanuel's 19-year-old brother. He mainly speaks English on behalf of his family of eight.

"I come from where I know little English, but I am trying to get something," Habariugiria.

He says watching the progress of his younger brothers has been a sight to see.

"I feel good because they are getting something through their head," he says. "They already know Swahili so they are going to be able to pick up English and then converse with their friends and then make conversation in English."

In America, Habariugiria Joseph goes by Joseph. He says that in just two and a half months, their family's tutor for Eric and Emmanuel has helped them make great strides.

"It is so different because, for example, the first time they did not know how to count," he says. "They did not know how to count in English and Tom taught them how to count and know some colors and the types."

Emmanuel is a bit shy, while Eric is curious.

Eric said he enjoys learning new things.

"Because he help us to teach some words, some new words, and taking us to swim in the pool and he's taking us to the markets to feed us rice and chicken."

Thompson doesn't just teach the boys history, math, science and English, but also ways to navigate through their everyday American lives.

Thompson was one of the first mentors and volunteers for this program.

"My charge is to be an English teacher and help them in the context of their lives learn English," Thompson says. "So basically what I do is use bus schedules, use traffic signs, things that they encounter in their life to learn English."

However, Thompson and the boys are not alone. Forty-four Congolese students in grades 6 to 12 are not only learning English but also ways to transition into our society. That is all thanks to volunteers at the International Rescue Committee, based in the Capital City.

"It is very rewarding for me as a teacher and a former teacher it is important for me to feel like I am contributing and what these kids give me is an affirmation as well as to see the growth that they have made," he says. "[I] totally love it, it is the highlight of my week each week when I get to meet with these boys."

Chase Beasley, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Literacy Program, says the impact that Thompson has on these boys.

"He is engaged in the students educational process not only as a mentor and tutor but also as an advocate in their schools directly," Beasley says.

Thompson hopes to install a crosswalk, because he saw a need for his students and other refuge families to be able to commute back and forth.

In the meantime, Thompson bought Joseph a bicycle when he realized he had no way to commute from school, to work, to home. If Eric continues to excel throughout their training, he hopes to receive a yellow bike as well.

"Yeah, I feel proud of them because of that and I hope to see them teaching and be engineers, because they have a good life in the future," Joseph says.

With this new program, Eric and Emmanuel receive life-changing guidance through mentorship.

Beasley says these sessions go a long way.

"It may be small things like being able to name items in their bedroom or being able to communicate with a store clerk or associate," he says. "They may be small things to me, but it may mean everything to that person who did not know how to do those things before."

The work that they do, "Yes it makes me happy, of course," shares Emmanuel.

Beasley says that many people do not know that there even is a Congolese population in Tallahassee.

"People are people. Everyone has customs everyone has their morals their guidelines but at the very core of it we all kind of want the same things," he says. "You know the parents of the Congolese families are extremely eager for their children to learn English, extremely eager for their children to start school."

The pair of brothers are looking forward to learning more, with confidence instilled by their volunteers from their new community they now call home.

Eric expresses he has big plans for his future, which is now much brighter thanks to this program, "I will be a teacher or a doctor and I am going to be graduation."

The program is free and available for any family that is a part of the IRC's Refuge Program. For more information on the program, click here.

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