by Marcia Howard
It happened during the final class of a fall semester at Literacy Achieves (then known as VMLC). Rosemary Curtis, my co-teacher as well as fellow PHPC member, and I had asked our students to tell or show something about holidays in the countries they came from. A woman from Myanmar wore colorful apparel and performed a dance from her favorite Burmese festival. A man from Sudan explained the special tunics Muslim men wear for holidays and important occasions. Four women from Mexico sang a song from their traditional Christmas Eve procession. Fellow students listened attentively. They clapped and cheered enthusiastically. Different continents, different cultures, differing beliefs. And, yet, harmony and joy filled the room. Savoring those moments has been one of my favorite experiences as a volunteer at Literacy Achieves.
Perhaps it was the holiday class experience that influenced me last summer when teachers and students were asked to complete the sentence “Literacy achieves _________”. We didn’t have a lot of time to ponder the question. (The photographer was ready to document our answers, and we teachers needed to help students express their ideas, too!) I quickly penned “Literacy achieves a path to understanding”. I was extremely weary of the discord and turbulence so prevalent in our world, and I deeply appreciated the goodwill and calm that permeate the world of Literacy Achieves.
Now that I’ve had even more time to think about my answer, I know I would write the same thing. Literacy achieves a path to understanding. And I treasure the opportunity to be part of the process.
Of course, literacy provides students a path for understanding English and life in the U.S. The students’ stories are inspiring and gratifying. Angela* tells of her ability to communicate with her son’s doctors during his serious illness because she had learned English. Abdul* seemed very pleased with obtaining a better job because of his improved English skills. Yati* radiated pride as she announced she had obtained her U.S. citizenship. Literacy Achieves paved the way for each student. I’m glad I could play a tiny role in each story.
Literacy Achieves also paves the way for understanding among people. Just like the holiday class at the end of the fall semester, every class session creates time and space in which people from vastly different backgrounds come together in common purpose and encourage each other along life’s journey. I cherish the understanding, harmony and joy created daily at Literacy Achieves. The world is a better place as a result. I like being part of that.
*names changed to provide privacy