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Immigrant Mothers Learn English, Work Toward Dreams

Rasha Abdu came to the United States, from Saudi Arabia, four months ago to achieve dreams she couldn't otherwise fulfill.

The new West Hartford resident is the mother of three children and is originally from Sudan. She came to the United States, with her husband, seeking a different life for her family.

"I have many dreams," said Abdu, who is Muslim. "In Saudi Arabia, it isn't allowed for a woman to study or work or even go outside. I want to study and improve."

Abdu is one of 17 immigrant women - all mothers living in West Hartford - from 10 different countries currently taking the English for Families class, offered by West Hartford Continuing Education and the Bridge Family Center's Family Resource Center.

The class, held at the Charter Oak International Academy, is teaching these women English and helping them understand the community and adjust to their new home. The class is made free by a federal grant, and also offers enrichment programs for their children who are between the ages of two and four.

"In the beginning, life here was very different," Abdu said. "There are many things different here... about education, life, people. But now it's okay. It's good. I like West Hartford. This program is very good for my family."

The story of each woman and why they came to the United States and West Hartford varies greatly, but often shares the common theme of giving their families and children more opportunities.

Fatima Alfajer moved to the United States, from Syria, nine months ago. She has four children.

"I moved here for my children," Alfajer said. "The people here are good."

There's Misoo Kang, who came from Japan six months ago and is living here temporarily while her husband, who is a doctor, conducts research at the UConn Health Center. Kang was an emergency room doctor in Japan, but can't do the same job here because she doesn't have the right medical license. She wants to learn English to help her get any kind of job.

Others in the class have lived in the community longer, like Yuling Li, the mother of two, who came here from China eight years ago. English for Families has opened new doors for her that haven't existed in the last eight years, because of language barriers.

"This has helped me a lot," Li said. "It's the only way I can connect to the community. I've been here for eight years and it's only starting now."

Li lamented the fact that before taking this class, she would go back and forth from home to work to home, not stopping in between or after to make friends or be part of something else in town.

"Now I feel part of a family in West Hartford," Li said.

But as much as the women in the class talk about supporting their children, they also want to do things for themselves. One wants to earn her driver's license and another is seeking a new job, two things the class is helping with.

Muradiye Akcay has three children and moved to the United States, from Turkey, in 2004 because her husband was already here working. Now she's ready to work.

"My goal first was learning English so I can connect with others," Akcay said.

But raising three children meant utilizing that English she was learning wasn't possible just yet. Now that they are getting older, she can.

"Now they are growing, so I have a chance to do something for myself," Akcay said. "I've got dreams too. I want to work and do something for myself."

English for Families isn't just teaching these women how to speak English, but also about daily life skills that most would take for granted.

Recently, class teacher Elizabeth Hanlon has been talking about deciding when it's the right time to call 911 and how to call a doctor for an appointment. Topics also include leisure, like finding places to take their children sledding and learning about West Hartford's parks.

While they're learning, their young children are in the next room, learning too. The mothers agreed that because their young ones learn English faster than they do, they sometimes can't keep up at home. The English for Families class is helping to close that gap.

No matter where these women came from or why they've decided to take the class, it all comes back to enriching their new lives in West Hartford. And because of that, they've bonded.

Abdu, especially, said she is determined to work hard to adjust to her new life in West Hartford.

"I want to close my eyes and open them and learn English," Abdu said. "This is good for me. I can follow my [children speaking English] and know the life here. I can enjoy this life. This is the only way to succeed in life in the United States."

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