Monday, February 5, 2018

The Importance of Understanding One Another

Photo Credit: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). 

The Importance of Understanding One Another, 
by Eric Beasley, MIMS

Recently I returned from Rome, Italy where I learned quite a lot about the civil society organizations there that exist to assist asylum-seekers and refugees. One of the places I visited was Caritas International, a Catholic faith-inspired safe haven for newcomers, that offers emergency assistance such as food, shelter, language classes, and legal aid (Caritas, 2017). I was very excited and encouraged as I sat in the language classroom at Caritas International because I have a linguistic background and I realize the importance of language acquisition in one’s development and growth, especially during such a challenging experience such as integrating into a new society. As I sat there, I looked back on all the times I sat in a classroom trying to learn new vocabulary and grammar in French and Arabic and I realized how much bigger the world seemed because I knew I could communicate with more people. It is a valuable skill that is necessary for people who need to just get by in a new country in order to become established and then to prosper. I used to think that I wanted to be a language teacher when I was younger and those same thoughts and feelings came back to me during my visit. I also began to think about how many people had come through that classroom I sat in and did not know any Italian when they arrived and have moved on to advanced classes thanks to their hard work and the efforts of all the teachers there. When I was thinking of what I wanted to write about for this blog my first thoughts went to that day at Caritas International. 

I think of language as a key aspect to identity and the way we use and understand our native language and new languages shapes the way we perceive the world and engage with other people in it (Odyssey, 2016). Following these thoughts, I began to look at language programs provided by other organizations, including the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), so that I could asses for myself the level of importance they place on language acquisition (JRS Lebanon, 2017).  I wanted to look to see if JRS had any campaigns in Lebanon because it is a small and densely populated country that is hosting close to two million Syrian refugees due to the civil war in Syria. Their native population is only four million which means that roughly a quarter of its residents are Syrians. Among several factors that limit children’s’ education there is the inability to communicate in the local Levantine dialect, so language classes are extremely important. Along with language classes, the center also offers psychosocial counseling and other services to refugee children because they need something more than a traditional education. They need help coping with the trauma of war and with adjusting to a new environment. I think the work that JRS is doing there, and in other areas around the world, is truly inspiring and meaningful. I think they are absolutely fulfilling their commitment to accompany, serve, and advocate.