When Syeda Shafique first came to Canada from Bangladesh, she would sit in a class to learn English and just nod and smile.
She didn’t understand anything and was too shy to ask questions. She ended up learning most of her English at home, from her son. Now, Mohammed Shafique is taking his mother’s experience and extending it to the rest of his community in Regent Park.
“She wasn’t ever afraid to ask us for help,” says Shafique, 23.
Shafique, whose first language is Bengali, sees the pattern over and over in Regent Park, where he lives.
“They (newcomer parents) pick up their basic English language skills from their kids,” he says.
So Shafique has enlisted youth from the neighbourhood to teach parents.
Youth Empowering Parents is a three-hour weekend ESL and computer skills class. Each adult is paired with a young volunteer from the same linguistic and cultural background.
“There is a tremendous amount of educational investment that goes toward youth, especially marginalized youth. But if you think about it there’s very little investment in programs like this for marginalized parents,” says Shafique.
Johura Jaigirdar has been in Canada since 1992, but always found it difficult to squeeze ESL classes into her day while caring for three young children. The family speaks Bengali at home.
She decided to come to YEP when her children got frustrated with trying to teach her English.
Her teacher is Hoore Jannat, 13.
“I came because I like helping people,” says Jannat, who was born in Bangladesh but came to Canada at age three.
Jaigirdar says working with Jannat is more like learning from a friend than a teacher. “If I don’t understand something, she can explain it to me in my own language,” she says.
The program, run out of the Regent Park Centre of Learning, wrapped up a pilot session in December. The second semester began on the weekend.