2016-11-25 / Front Page

Color of communication

Tolerance group engages OOB students
By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


Color of Communities members at the presentation represented eight nations of origin: Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Burundi, Vietnam and Ethiopia. Most members speak two languages in addition to English. Color of Communities members, at the table on the right, introduce themselves to Old Orchard Beach High School students, seated in rows on the left. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Color of Communities members at the presentation represented eight nations of origin: Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Burundi, Vietnam and Ethiopia. Most members speak two languages in addition to English. Color of Communities members, at the table on the right, introduce themselves to Old Orchard Beach High School students, seated in rows on the left. (Anthony Aloisio photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH – A group of college students of diverse national origin and ethnicity, called “Color of Communities,” met with students at Old Orchard Beach High School for an interactive presentation on communication and tolerance in a multicultural society. The presentation, which happened Friday, Nov. 18 in the school library, included a short introduction from each Color of Communities member about why they traveled from their home country to Maine, along with interactive lessons between members and students. It also included longer personal stories shared by members of the kind that Color of Communities shares during a periodic event they hold in South Portland, called “Sacred Stories.”


Ahmed Rasa, a Color of Communities member and Old Orchard Beach High School graduate, speaks in Farsi and uses gestures to try to convey the meaning of “How are you doing?” to an Old Orchard Beach High School student. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Ahmed Rasa, a Color of Communities member and Old Orchard Beach High School graduate, speaks in Farsi and uses gestures to try to convey the meaning of “How are you doing?” to an Old Orchard Beach High School student. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Color of Communities is based in South Portland and, while not affiliated with Southern Maine Community College, is composed entirely of students from the school. The group is coordinated by Rosemarie De Angelis, an instructor at SMCC and South Portland resident. Members at Friday’s presentation represented eight nations of origin: Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Burundi, Vietnam and Ethiopia. The most common reason that members shared for their travel to Maine was better education. Many members also said they left their home country for safety.

Ahmed Rasa, who is from Afghanistan, who graduated from Old Orchard Beach High School, said that the United States is a “peaceful place.”

“It’s the land of opportunity,” Rasa said.

Ruweda Ali came to the United States in 2005 from Kenya, but she was born in Somalia.

“I came with my family to Kenya as a refugee because there was a civil war,” Ali told the Old Orchard Beach students. “We had the opportunity to come here because my grandfather was here.”

At De Angelis’s prompting, Color of Communities members shared their thoughts and feelings about the result of the recent presidential election, which, along with signaling a growing strength of nationalist sentiment in the United States, foreshadows for many non-natives a harsher immigration policy.

“It’s kind of scary, but I have faith in our democracy,” Ali said.

“I never felt the way that I felt the day after the election,” said Hayde Seddiqi, who is from Afghanistan and, who like others present, wore a hijab at the presentation. “When I was walking to work I was very scared. When people were looking at me I thought ‘it’s different.’ The idea of the U.S. is having freedom, and everyone can have their own ideas, but that day I felt as, it’s just something people say about the U.S. You can be scared here. You can feel you are not belonging here.”

Rasa said that his concern was for his recently married brother, who was planning to bring his new wife to the U.S. from Afghanistan. He was concerned that changes in immigration policy by the new administration may make that difficult.

“I would like to see my brother and (his) wife get together,” Rasa said, “but there is an obstacle.”

Color of Communities members also lead the high school students in an interactive lesson crafted to convey to students the feeling of being stuck on the wrong side of a language barrier. The members divided the students into small groups and paired each with a foreign language, represented by the members. The languages were Arabic, Bulgarian, Somali, French, Farsi, Vietnamese and Amharic.

Then, Color of Communities members deliberately spoke only in their language and tried to teach the students how to say a specific phrase in that language. For example, Rasa taught his students to respond in Farsi to “How are you doing?” by saying “I am great, thank you.” Old Orchard Beach High School faculty and staff participated alongside the students.

After the lesson De Angelis debriefed the students by asking them how the activity made them feel. Students responded with words like “confused” and “frustrated.”

“Self-conscious and vulnerable,” offered Matt Moon, an English teacher at the high school.

De Angelis and Color of Communities members led a discussion on the experience of going to live in a foreign place without being able to communicate fluently. De Angelis also challenged the students to think about how they should treat people who are having such an experience. That discussion prompted a story about Rasa from student Jake Kepple. Kepple said that he had empathized with Rasa when he arrived at the school on his first day because when he came to the lunchroom he obviously didn’t have a place to sit. Kepple’s response, he said, was to invite Rasa to join him.

One of the “sacred stories” told – re-done from the group’s previous event, and will not be told at the next – was from Tai Le, who is from Vietnam. Le’s story was of intense isolation after arriving at Deering High School in Portland in 2011.

“The only people who would talk to me were in my ESL (English as second language) class,” Le told the students.

Le said that he performed well at school, but it made no difference.

“The students were surprised, and would comment that I was smart,” Le said. “But still, I sat alone (in class) and no one would try to become my friend.”

Le told students that he did eventually form close friendships with other foreign students,

“Friends are people who listen to you, even when it might not be easy to understand you,” Le said.

Still, a consistent theme of Le’s story was that navigating high school life as an outsider only added to other challenges, like working two jobs.

“I worked all four years,” Le said. “In my senior year, I worked two jobs: the restaurant and the nail salon. I never had time to try sports or clubs. I needed to help my family.”

Color of Communities will hold its next Sacred Stories event on Dec. 7 at 3:30 p.m. at South Portland City Hall.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

FMI

Color of Communities will host an event of storytelling by its members, called “Sacred Stories,” on Dec. 7 at 3:30 p.m. at South Portland City Hall.

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