Volunteers from Kelloggsville Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood, Mich., have helped at least 50 Burundian refugees learn to read and write in the English language.
“I want to read books, speak, and write. I want to read labels,” said Jozerine Mutuyimana, 20, who immigrated two years ago. Burundians speak Swahili or Kirundi, making adjustment to life in North America a challenge.
Susan Kraght said Burundians have a harsh history in East Africa. “They’ve been through war, genocide, and life in refugee camps.”
Last year, church member Lori Flower started teaching a family in her home, but soon the walls were bursting with learners. “We just grew,” Flower said.
Kraght, Flower’s daughter, launched children’s literacy classes in church classrooms, not expecting adults to show up too.
“Whole families come,” Kraght said. Volunteers from area churches of different denominations also teach at Kelloggsville.
Volunteer Kellie Bouma takes refugees to medical appointments and ethnic food stores and helps them fill out government forms. “When they get something in the mail, they don’t understand,” Bouma said.
Her most challenging task is finding dental care for the Burundians. “I call dentists and beg them to help the refugees. They have toothaches and abscesses,” she said.
While tutoring, church volunteers offer friendship and spiritual encouragement as well. “We show them that God has not forgotten them,” Kraght said.