Refugees find connection through language


Student Reporter

With the crisis in Afghanistan rising to the forefront of the news cycle, many have turned their focus to the plight of refugees. Since 2010, Amarillo has received more than 1,500 refugees from all over the world, according to the Refugee Language Project. 

They define a refugee as someone who, “has a well-founded fear of persecution.” They also state that, “War, as well as ethnic, tribal and religious violence, are leading causes of refugees.” 

Two organizations in Amarillo help in the rehoming process for refugees: Catholic Charities of the Texas Panhandle and Refugee Services of Texas. 

Other Amarillo organizations also step in to provide necessary resources, including housing, medical care and social services. One great need that might go underappreciated is the need for a common language. 

“I would say language acquisition is the first and largest challenge of a refugee coming to Amarillo,” Mandi Garcia, RLP community programs coordinator said. “Learning English will help with adjusting to and functioning in the community and will help as well with education and employment aspirations,” Garcia said.

The Refugee Language Project focuses on addressing the language barriers that refugees face. 

“RLP assists refugees by teaching literacy classes, arranging one-on-one relationships with English speakers to facilitate language acquisition and cultural exchange, and providing opportunities for the broader community to interact with refugees and vice versa at regular potluck meals,” Garcia said. 

English Second Language programs are vital to non-English speaking refugees. There are many public as well as private organizations that are meeting this need in Amarillo. According to the RLP, Amarillo College was the greatest provider for ESL classes in 2019-2020, with 23% of the total adult enrollment, followed closely by Paramount Baptist Church.

AC offers ESL noncredit classes for citizens, permanent residents and refugees for low-beginning to advanced levels. Classes are available both in the morning and evening, with specific class times that can be found on the AC website. 

Paramount Baptist has a program called LEAF, Learning English Among Friends, has classes that meet Wednesday mornings 9:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m. or evenings 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

“I think the people of Amarillo need to know that the refugees are people, just like we are, but some of them have been through some very hard times,” Ann Clark, who has taught ESL at Paramount Baptist for the past 25 years, said. 

“Yes, they need to learn English and they need many opportunities to practice. They also need a friend, someone to help them learn the culture here and how to do things like buy school supplies for their children, make doctor’s appointments, and many other things we do automatically and don’t think about,” Clark said.

Classes can be found on the AC website.

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