Teaching in a tumultuous time

Photo courtesy of Refugee Family Literacy

Photo courtesy of Refugee Family Literacy

Refugee Family Literacy (RFL) is an organization that represents cultural tolerance. With years of experience teaching previously as an APUSH teacher at DHS, Susan Brown joined RFL to teach refugees from around the world how to read and write.

“I would say I was interested in a new challenge; it’s a very different population and a very different subject matter. I felt that I would be having a very distinct and direct impact on  people’s live,” Brown said on her change.

According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the number of field offices for their organization in Atlanta have gone from 2 to 4 in the past year.

With a growing presence of ICE in the city of Atlanta, any immigrants seeking refuge in the Clarkston-based organization are at a risk of ICE detaining and potentially deporting them. That risk led Brown to join RFL.

“I was motivated to join Refugee Family Literacy because of my own personal obligation; that education and a home should be a basic human right offered to everyone, despite their origin,” Brown explained.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, about 80% of Georgians believe any business owner who employs illegal immigrants should receive federal punishment.

Part of RFL’s job is to prepare refugees for the American life and workplace. A growing anti-immigration sentiment poses an issue for Brown and her organization.

“The refugees who come to RFL have nothing. They don’t know English, many haven’t settled in yet and don’t have homes and they come from all parts of the world. But they are willing to work, and personally, I think it’s very rash for any economy as large and growing as Atlanta’s to reject willing employees,” Brown said.

The role of immigrants in American society is an increasingly controversial topic, not only on national but state level politics as candidates for Georgia Governor throw in their bid for the position, with extremists such as Michael Williams going as far as to suggest enlisting a “deportation bus” to transport Mexican illegal immigrants across the border.

However, Brown believes she and RFL represent an important voice in this debate from an education standpoint, that learning how to live in a place where you take refuge is something that gets denied to no one.

“[The refugees we teach] don’t need to know about supply and demand curves, right? They need to able to know how to tell the doctor that [their] kids been vomiting for three days, and when the doctor tells them what they need to do, they need to be able to understand it. The content is completely different, and it affects them on a completely practical level. Everything we teach [the students] in our classes, they should be able to just walk out and use it to make their lives better,” Brown said on the issue.

In the state of Georgia where immigration and refugees continue to be a focus point of state politics, the voice of education remains largely unheard, but RFL works to change the stereotypes that define anti-immigrant sentiment. With a class of over 200 women and children hailing from 20 different countries, RFL continues its efforts to integrate and educate all people, regardless of nationality.

“I feel that America owes [immigrants] a lot. And I think as a very wealthy nation, we should be open to immigrants and do our part in the international community,” Brown said.