Madison's Burmese refugees share ESL class excitement
MADISON -- The library in Madison is getting some upgrades, and it comes with a new helpful program for Burmese refugees in town.
You can now sign up for language lessons at the library, in part taught by professors at Northeast Community College -- which visited Thursday to examine the new space -- formerly, the museum.
"Madison has a very large Hispanic population, and also has one of the largest employers in the area -- Tyson," Tracy Sporleder, NCC adult education coordinator said. The college serves 28 counties to help adults get their high school diplomas and learn English.
Sporleder said English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes will help not only Madison's 65% Hispanic population, but other languages such as Karen; the language spoken in the town's 60 Burmese refugee households.
"We forget where some of these employees, students, families, come from, and some of their lifestyles have been extremely difficult," Sporleder said.
For example, people who work at Tyson, like Cha Paw Por, who was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.
"We could not go outside of the fence, there was no freedom," Por said.
Or Paw Shae -- who had to leave Myanmar (also called Burma) after a military coup left the nation in the war it still faces today.
"I really miss my country but right now won't be able to return, because of the Civil War, but someday I hope I can go back, to see my mother," Shae said.
Both work with the local chapter of the Karen Society, which is encouraging refugees to take advantage of the library's new ESL options.
"We need to learn more, we need to do better because we're here in this country," said Thalay Paw, who drives refugees to appointments, and helps with things like reading letters. Paw taught herself English by watching cartoons with her kids.
It's not a simple goal -- as Karen uses a whole other alphabet. Plus, it can be difficult for Madison's new refugees -- of which they see about six per year -- who are also facing culture shocks, such as changing their conception that eye contact is rude.
"Because we give respect not try to look face to face," said Eh Doh, vice president of the Madison Chapter of Karen Society.
Regardless, it's a task the refugees say is worth it for the sake of their children...who will also be seeing other expansions to the library soon.
"I'm really excited about the learning center, we'll have an area for children, an ESL room, a maker space," Lori Porter, Dir. of Madison Public Library said.
The library is still looking for volunteers to help clear out the new space, and for more teachers.
You can also aid the Karen Society at their fundraiser this summer for Burmese refugees.