Saint John Syrian refugees learn English to better job prospects

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WATCH ABOVE: After settling into their new homes, one of the main priorities for Syrian refugees is learning to read and write in English. Global’s Andrew Cromwell reports – Jun 1, 2016

The YMCA estimates about 160 adult Syrian refugees have resettled in the Greater Saint John area. It’s the organization’s hope that at some point all will be registered for an English language course.

READ MORE: Syrian refugee family excited to begin new life in Saint John

There were 13 students at a morning class at the “Y” on Thursday hoping to master the new language they know is a crucial part of making Canada their home.

“[We’re learning about] geographic, about work, about the TV, about the classroom, about shopping, grocery shopping,” said Fadel Shiekh, an English student and Syrian refugee.

There are several hurdles to learning English as a second language, but teacher Ann McAllister says the students are catching on quickly.

“They’re very keen to learn, very eager to learn because they know that the language is the key to their future,” McAllister said.

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The goal for most students is to graduate to the Language for Employment Program, which will help them get jobs.

Sheikh says the the type of job isn’t a real concern, his main focus is just getting employment.

“Anything, cause in Syria my job [was] to teach Arabic,” he said. ” Now [it’s] different.”

As the students make the most of their opportunity, the teachers themselves are also benefiting from the program.

“I think that this is the best job in the world,”said McAllister.

“I mean really to be able to work with people from different backgrounds, to be able to get to know them as people, one on one, and to be able to help them and to see them come along, to see how well they progress, its like a complete joy.”

READ MORE: Saint John restaurant owner opens market aimed at Syrian refugees

The YMCA has seen an increase in demand for the English classes with about 250 people now enrolled, including several Syrians, forcing them to increase class numbers.

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“We ran programs from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and now we have to run programs from eight in the morning until eight at night and provide different options in terms of space and access,” YMCA CEO Shilo Boucher said.


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