African Community Learning Program students opened up on Thursday, January 25, 2018 while sharing their connections with the story of founder, Aminata Sy, in “First Steps Toward a Giant Leap: Part 1.”
The session began with a review of the article, based on Aminata’s experiences with language and her struggles adapting to different countries. Having had over a week to read and think about the article, the students had much to share about the piece. They identified Republic of Congo, Senegal, and America as the three major places in Aminata’s story.
“What are some problems you noticed from this article?,” Aminata asked.
“You struggled with English,” one student replied.
“You did not speak Wolof when you arrive in Senegal,” said another.
“People made fun of you because you did not speak their language at school,”another added.
From their facial expressions, they were familiar with the challenges mentioned in the article and could relate to story.
Students were also able to identity steps Aminata took to overcome language barriers. Tamara summarized the main steps.
“Nene Aminata learned how to speak the language [Pulaar] from her aunt in Senegal, and in the US, she did her GED that taught her to speak English better,” she said.
When expressing how he felt about the article, Mageed mentioned, “I read the article three times because I want to make a project based on it. My teacher agreed that the story related to mine and said I should present to our class about it.”
Aminata then asked the students to share their personal experiences in connection to the article.
“What do you see in this article that connects to you?,” Aminata asked.
Most of the students came to America at some point either not speaking English or spoke just enough to get by. They wrote for five minutes and discussed their thoughts.
“Something that I have in common with the article is that I came to the U.S. when I was five years old and couldn’t speak that much English” Mageed began. “All I could say was ‘hi.’ I had this huge incident in first grade. I was sitting there and needed to go to the bathroom but only knew how to say that in Arabic. I ran to the bathroom and got into trouble and the teacher told my dad about it.”
Tamara shared a similar story to that of Mageed.
“When I came here, I was 9 years old and didn’t speak the language,” she said. And one day, I was in the class and needed to go to the bathroom. My teacher spoke French, and I said that in French. The next day, the teacher was not there, and I needed to go and I got into trouble.”
Aibatou spoke of being lonely and bullied as newcomer to U.S
“When I first came to America, I did not speak English, and we moved to Philadelphia,” Aibatou detailed. I started going to school. I went to Martin School. I had trouble speaking English, and people made fun of me. I did not understand anything, and I graduated from fifth grade. I started speaking English in sixth grade, and it was hard for me. People tried to talk to me, but I did not understand.”
“When I was 8 years old, I came to America and didn’t speak English,” Ezzeldin added. “My cousin came to our class to help me.”
Diorele, who came to the U.S. in 2016, volunteered to speak in a session for the first time.
“I’m from Senegal. When I came here, I don’t speak English. And later when I was in America, I learn English.”
African Community Learning Program is offering its students much needed support. Through students’ continued engagement with the organization, they will hopefully overcome cultural barriers in America just like Aminata did.
Kwaku Quansah is a University of Pennsylvania senior from Ghana studying biology and economics. He is also a spring 2018 African Community Learning Program writer, tutor, and mentor.
To support African Community Learning Program visit africancommunitylearningprogram.org and facebook.com/AfricanCommunityLearningProgram/
or email Aminata Sy at firstname.lastname@example.org