Refugees in Buffalo use literacy to start anew

roeyahram via flickr.com
June 8, 2012

Daniel Robison, BUFFALO

Each year, more than 1,000 refugees are sent to Buffalo. They're helping to re-populate the shrinking Rust Belt city after a half-century of decline. Most refugees are illiterate in their native languages, yet are expected to learn English upon arrival, and literacy is seen as the refugees'  best chance to become successful in America.

For many refugees, classrooms are a new concept. Some have never used electricity before, let alone a computer.

“We’re not looking for people to quote Shakespeare,” said Ann Brittain of Catholic Charities of Buffalo, which offers 10 levels of English classes. “We want people to know the difference between hot and cold. Slow down, go faster. [It’s about] very basic life skills and employment skills that they need.”

....“They want the jobs now,” Lawrence says. “They want the skills now. They don’t want to wait a couple of years. Many of them have families. They have to start providing right now.”

In essence, that’s also what local leaders want from refugees: to help the local economy by getting jobs and building a new tax base. Most settle for work in restaurants and hotels that don’t require fluency in English.

Government officials say refugees are in high demand at local companies. But with Buffalo’s cheap rent and low cost of living, some opt to start their own businesses.

Read more at Innovation Trail.

Daniel Robison/Innovation Trail