By Lori Berkey, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Antonio Marin didn's speak English when he moved to the United States in 1992. Upon completing a master's degree in Venezuela, he was recruited for a job in Framingham at a Latino counseling center. Morin made time outside of work to study English with a volunteer tutor from Literacy Unlimited (LU) in Framingham. Now fluent and working as a special education teacher, the Shrewsbury resident returned to LU in September as a volunteer to help newcomers enroll during registration week.
“It was a privilege, really,” Morin said about going back to the spot where he first got help to now help others. “When you'se in a new country and you don's know the language,” he added, “everything is so difficult.”
LU is one of 12 affiliates of Literacy Volunteers of Massachusetts (LVM). Literacy Volunteers of Greater Worcester is another nearby LVM affiliate. Volunteer tutors complete an 18-hour training and agree to meet two hours per week with a student for a year. The free program serves adult speakers of other languages who need help learning English, as well as adult native English speakers who need basic literacy help to read and write. Conversation classes are also offered.
Morin once struggled going to the gas station, and to the supermarket to ask for half a pound of ham or cheese. It was hard to go to Dunkin” Donuts to ask for a meal.
“I went through all those things. I was afraid to leave my room, because I didn's know if I get lost how I's going to find my way.”
Through tutoring, Morin gained language skills that helped him survive in a job that required collaborations with community resources. Additionally, it helped him adjust to a new culture.
Morin also leads an English conversation circle at the Shrewsbury Public Library that is free for adults learning English. He senses people feel comfortable with him, knowing he can relate to their experience.
“When I first came here, I was alone, isolated from my family and friends. It's hard to survive socially, emotionally and with challenges of a new job. I had that experience, so if I's able to do just a tiny bit for other people, than it's very rewarding.”
Morin said stereotypes exist about immigrants taking advantage of Americans, but that he sees things differently.
“Many people who come to this country are desperate. They may have been living with violence, with terrorism, and they want to live in peace. They are eager to work, to succeed, to help their families. They want to find security. And they want to contribute.”
Morin believes most people don's want to take advantage, but rather to have an opportunity.
“We love this country, because in this country, even though we have problems, you have an order. You have legislations that work. Many people want to give back to this country. That's why I became an American citizen.”
Morin said he wishes programs like LU received more government support. He thinks with more government investment, the benefit to the community would be exponential.
“If “ESL people” don's have the opportunity to learn the language, they won's be able to get a job, to solve basic problems. It creates more problems.”
By empowering the population to be able to communicate and further their education, he added, they'sl be able to get better jobs, be more self-sufficient and contribute to the financial system.