2013-11-29 / Front Page

Sacred Stories help students heal

Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Students will share stories of their journeys to America and the hardships they endured to get here when “Sacred Stories of Immigrants and Refugees” is presented by Rosemarie De Angelis’ Advanced Speaking and Listening for English Language Learners class.

The performance will be held at South Portland City Hall at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5.

The event has been held every semester since fall 2003, although there have been changes in the mode of performance. For the first six years, the class performed to an empty room while being recorded. Their professor felt that a live audience would help stories reach their full potential. “In 2009 I had this idea that these stories are so incredible, so powerful that we were missing the full circle of story telling where you have an audience and they hear your story,” De Angelis said. “In 2009, December, was the first group I had that I said I want to do this live.” During this holiday season, most Americans gather to celebrate thanks for their houses, food and for friends and family. Going around the classroom at Southern Maine Community College, students said they were thankful for being safe, the opportunity to learn and further their education. On the surface, the purpose of the performance is an assignment in English composition and verbal delivery. The deeper significance is to help heal the emotional wounds of these students. Before they are able to carry on with the rest of their lives they must overcome the last obstacle of their journey towards safety: the memories.

Ninette Iraburuta has shared her story only once before while applying for asylum from the United States. Her reading at “Sacred Stories” will be the first time she’s spoken about her life aloud.

“Sometimes it’s so difficult to talk about your secret story because you feel like they are yours, you don’t need to tell anybody about your stories,” said Iraburuta, originally from Burundi. “But I was like, if I talk much about what happened to me, what I went through, it can be the way for me to heal.” Iraburuta plans to transfer her credits from SMCC to a bachelor’s program to study international politics.

The class consists of immigrants and refugees from Somalia, Guatamala, Burundi, Angola, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda and Iraq. They have escaped the horrors of war and genocide that have touched their lives individually. Nsonia Nguizani lost his younger sister before making his journey to Maine, and he, too, looks forward to the opportunity for healing. “When I grew up, as a young boy, I was told men don’t cry. So all my life I never cry,” said Nguizani, 33, from Angola. “Sharing this story will help treat my heart because I’m feeling like I don’t want to connect with people … I’m afraid that one day something will happen with them and my heart will be broken one more time.” Although he is still haunted by the memories of his past, Nguizani said he is thankful for the people who are in his life now. He looks at Thanksgiving as a chance to show them how much they mean to him. “Now I’m trying to be thankful to those who received me. (It’s) the only way I can express my thanks to God. I can’t see Him, but the people who received me, I can see them.” Many in the class are preparing for their first Thanksgiving, including some who will spend it with De Angelis and her friends, Bob and Peggy Crowley of South Portland. The Crowleys are anticipating hosting about 30 people for dinner on the 28th. Other students will spend the holiday with either friends or with their host families. The students extend the invitation to hear their personal stories to the public. Typically about 70 to 80 people will attend. De Angelis emphasized that the performance is not for young children.

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