Preparing refugee children -- and their moms -- for life in US

IYW Refugee Family Literacy mothers children_00000630
IYW Refugee Family Literacy mothers children_00000630

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Story highlights

  • Refugee Family Literacy is a nonprofit helping refugee mothers with young children
  • The charity is located in Clarkston, Georgia
  • Classes are available for children through 5

(CNN)Of the thousands of refugees who come to the United States annually, some end up in Clarkston, Georgia, a diverse Atlanta suburb with a history of accepting immigrants.

But that welcoming tradition only partially eases the refugees' transition. Many of them arrive in Clarkston unable to speak English and not ready to navigate their new lives. Mothers, in particular, struggle to acclimate to their new surroundings while their spouses are at work and older children are in school.
Founded in 2009, Refugee Family Literacy is a nonprofit organization that caters to refugee mothers with young children. The charity teaches English to mothers and provides early-childhood education to their children up to 5 years old. The staff is comprised of teachers with education degrees and assistants who are refugees. There are 250 students enrolled, with a wait list of 150.
"Our teachers are really working on their social, emotional development, helping them learn language" program director Jennifer Green tells CNN, "so that when they start school someday they'll hit the ground running."
Mothers come from about 20 different nations, such as Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Myanmar, also known as Burma.
"These women share a common experience of being displaced from their home countries," says Green. "They didn't want to leave their home country...they needed to do it to be safe."
The organization also hosts various workshops focused on parenting, health and nutrition. They help mothers become comfortable going to parent-teacher conferences and the doctor's office.
"Once women have been through our program, they gain confidence." Green says the women rely on each other for support.
"I'm from Burma," refugee mother Hla May tells CNN. "Before 2007 in Burma, its government, it's not good. It's not safe." May has been attending Refugee Family Literacy for five years. Her three sons also are enrolled.
May was previously a teacher before coming to the United States as a refugee. Now, she can speak and write English very well, along with other mothers in the program, "We are friends, like we are family ... We walk together. We laugh. We love it together."
Green says a common misconception people have about refugees is that they are uneducated or impoverished simply because they fled their country and don't speak English.
"Many of the women who come to school here are not illiterate. In fact, they speak three or four languages, just not English," says Green. "Many refugees have a strong education, have strong skill sets, and have so much to offer us in the United States."