By Jenny Radigan
I was staring blankly at a woman, trying so hard to understand the words that were coming out of her mouth. Did she just say – Where is the lunch? Where is the lunch? How would I know? I’ve been invited to lunch. Shouldn’t she be telling me where it is? My church and I were coming down to Peñasco to volunteer at a medical clinic and we were all going to eat first. Wasn’t that the plan? But after several moments and a translator, it became more painfully clear. I hadn’t been invited to lunch exactly. I had been invited to bring lunch. For approximately 200 people. That were arriving in about 30 minutes.
It’s hard to learn a new language. If you’ve ever been in a position where you needed to learn a new language for your survival, or to improve your life significantly, you know what I mean when I say it can be incredibly challenging. It can be frustrating and confusing, and it is often rife with misunderstanding. That incident was 4 years ago for me, but it could probably happen to me today, and I’ve been immersed in the language for 2 years now.
Why, then, would Steps of Love consider adding an Intensive English Language Learning program to the curriculum for the students of AIMPeñasco? Haven’t they already leaped over enough hurdles that had been keeping them from being educated? Some students in this program had never been educated a day in their lives because their parents could not fill out the form to receive a birth certificate due to their own illiteracy. This lack of a birth certificate barred them from enrolling. Some students literally couldn’t afford the nit cream needed to treat their lice, and therefore couldn’t attend school. With all of these barriers in place, why add a language program that wasn’t being required by the public schools?
The simple answer is that it creates better job opportunities for these children and for their families. The reality is we live in a border town and knowledge of the English language can increase their earning potential. Yes, it may be difficult for many of these children who are working so hard at catching up in their regular studies. But the benefits will be evident sooner rather than later. According to Cambridge University, children that learn another language have better memories and problem-solving skills. In addition, it helps their thought process and makes them better and more flexible learners. This is in direct alignment with the goals of Steps of Love, to support education, and thus the Intensive English Language Learning program has been launched.
The members of my church and I did find a way to feed the masses that day. With the help of Sam’s Club and some grills, we had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill within an hour and full bellies shortly thereafter. My Spanish language learning has come a long way since then, but I still regularly have miscommunications and misunderstandings that require patience, an internet connection, and Google translate. Thankfully, we’ll have a whole new generation of bilingual students coming out of our local schools to help people like me with translations! In large part this is due to the dedication of Steps of Love, AIMPeñasco, and our many, many generous donors. Thank you!