Teaching those in need

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Living out the works of mercy in their everyday life

By Associate Kate Fontanazza – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Associate Kate FontanazzaAs a member of St. Michael parish in Milwaukee, I have had the fortune to volunteer in the English as a second language (ESL) program, teaching English to Karen people from Burma. My SSND companion, Sister Lillia Langreck, previously ran an ESL program at St. Michael helping Hmong, Laotian and Cambodian people when they arrived from refugee camps in the 1980's, 1990's and 2000's.

Blind men from Burma, students of Associate Kate Fontanazza.
Blind Karen men from Burma
explore Milwaukee and learn
English along the way.
ESL students on hayride.

My first student was Poe Ru, from Burma. He has made so much progress in English and has recently become a citizen. I have since taught other refugees from Burma, and because of his progress, Poe Ru is my assistant teacher. Together we teach five blind men. As these students are blind, he translates what he can see to those who cannot.

Poe Ru and I also help others navigate the health care system in the United States. He had a friend who needed help going to the doctor, and I agreed to help. We assisted his friend to overcome the language barrier by helping him do things such as make an appointment. Since then, Poe Ru has had many other friends who have required assistance, as well.

Men of Burma learning to dress in layers.
Learning to dress in layers for the cold Milwaukee winters is part of the Karen people’s new experience.

One day, my students and I were talking about the oceans and feeling sand and shells, and I played a Judy Collins song that had whales singing in the background. One of the men said the sounds made him sad because it reminded him of his mother who is still in a refugee camp. The refugees have very limited resources, but much to share.

It has been a joy getting to know the people I have met through tutoring. I had been an art teacher, so I was used to teaching visually and now practice conversational English through common experiences like going to cafes, museums, farms and numerous parks. Working with the Karen people from Burma has been a blessing.

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