Giving Matters: Immigrant Literacy Connects Cultures and Generations
The New Hampshire Humanities Council’s Connections program is an adult literacy program that aims to develop communities of readers. Hari Sharma, who is originally from Bhutan, joined Connections via his ESOL class.
The books he read with his connections were selected around to focus on important cultural lessons. One unit was based on American suffrage icons including, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Those books are good for immigrants,” says Sharma, “because they don’t know about the voting system, voting rights or even their own rights. Many of them come from remote countries with dictatorships where they don’t have any rights at all. This knowledge will help them when they become citizens of the U.S.”
The Connections program facilitated the production of a children’s book, a project undertaken by Sharma and his Bhutanese classmates. “Story of a Pumpkin” is a Bhutanese folktale and the book contains the text of the story in both Nepali and English.
“Those stories were not written down,” Sharma explains, “we just heard them from our parents.” With the new book recently immigrated parents can read the story in the Nepali version, and the children read the English side, and with a little practice parent and child will become more familiar with the other language. Additionally, it “will help the next generation keep the culture alive.”
Sharma was a teacher in his native country, and has since become a teacher and facilitator in the Connections program. And he sees the book playing an unexpected role as he now helps other recent immigrants from many different countries learn how to read and write English. “That story helps us to know each other better and help to connect the people from one society to another society.”