Literacy for Life in Action
IRC New York, along with its collaborative partner Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY), has been delivering an intensive six-week workshop series for newly-arrived refugee adults. The series combines crucial cultural orientation information, content-based English language instruction, and positive psychosocial support and community building through therapeutic drama. Thanks to a Supplemental Services Grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), this innovative program has been running since June 2009.
Co-taught by IRC staff and CANY educators, the workshop series incorporates both traditional classroom activities as well as interactive field trips. A day of bowling provided a fun forum to cover topics related to the health and fitness unit. During a scavenger hunt in Grand Central Station, students had to utilize their classroom knowledge of NYC transportation to reach a fun, yet very practical goal. These types of activities aim to supplement classroom knowledge with direct, contextualized experience and increase the linkages between refugee populations and the wider New York City community.
Thus far, the class has been a balanced mix of both men and women who have come to us from countries such as Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Eritrea, China, Liberia, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Congo and Afghanistan. By employing role-play techniques and therapeutic drama, the program has bridged political, religious, or ethnic differences and lasting friendships have taken root both inside and outside of the IRC’s walls. As one student said about the diverse group who participated in the bowling excursion, “The most fun was wondering what the ball would do [roll in the gutter or hit pins] and cheering for and laughing with my new friends.”
In addition to the workshop, weekly men’s and women’s groups are facilitated by drama therapists. These groups provide a safe place for the recently arrived refugees to express their feelings through collective, alternative methods. During one of the women’s groups, these techniques led to a collaborative poem entitled “My New Life.” The following is an excerpt from that poem, which clearly seems to represent the feelings of both struggle and hope that we can all understand no matter what country we are from:
“This is your new life full of experiences; some good and some bad
You will have bad experiences but also great surprises
I have learned that bad experiences can disappear like a dream if you let them.
Don’t miss a dance, it’s a good dance.
This is your new life.”