Reconnecting with Nature in a New Land

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For  refugees used to living off the land and being in close contact with nature, city life can be a difficult adjustment. Spending time in the forest is a way to relieve stress, renew self-confidence,  and reconnect with essential elements of life.

ILC students and their families had several opportunities to explore the outdoors this spring. Field trips to Devil’s Lake for hiking and birding (part of a free monthly Family Adventures series), and to the Neighborhood House Nature Center in Dodge County for maple sugaring and garlic mustard picking were popular and well attended.

Interpreter Nang Kham provided key language support for speakers of Burmese, Karen, and other Myanmar languages, while Nature Center educators Christina Hill and Niki Espy helped interpreted what the birds and squirrels were saying and doing.



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Back Care for All

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Students from Marquette’s nurse practitioner grad program gave a presentation on back care for International Learning Center students, with help from in-house interpreter Nang Kham. A show of hands quickly revealed that nearly everyone has had back issues – whether from jobs that require heavy lifting, carrying small children, or the stress and strain of everyday life. Freddie and Peter demonstrated stretching and proper lifting techniques,  communicating across cultural and language barriers by keeping their language simple, using pictures, and showing how. ILC would definitely welcome them back again!

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Civic Engagement: Gaining A Voice

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Four Wisconsin State Legislators welcomed a group of refugees from International Learning Center (ILC), a program of Neighborhood House of Milwaukee in Madison last week, Tuesday February 10, 2015. The adult students met with legislators Chris Larson, Evan Goyke, Jonathan Brostoff, and Christine Sinicki to discuss expanding a key college aid program for minorities. The meeting was a powerful civics lesson for the adult students, many of whom come from countries that lack a functioning democracy, and a boost to their preparation for the rigorous US citizenship exam, and for those who heard their concerns. International Learning Center’s Citizenship program has been in existence since the 1980s and is accredited by the US Board of Immigration Appeals.

The group, which includes refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa, advocated for changes to the state’s Minority Retention Grant, a college aid program targeting under-represented and under-resourced groups. The grant, which was legislated in the wake of the Viet Nam war, currently benefits only refugees from Viet Nam, Laos, and Cambodia, in addition to African-American and Hispanic minorities. The group would like to see the grant’s benefits expanded to include all refugee groups, as they are all minorities with low representation in higher education and/or low income.

The proposal to change the Minority Retention Grant was initiated by a refugee from Burma who, after attaining his GED, found he was excluded from significant college aid because he is from an ethnic group not specifically named in the grant. Sen. Larson, who serves on the Senate Committee on Education, and Rep. Sinicki, who serves on the Assembly Committee on Education, agreed to draft legislation expanding language in the grant to make it more inclusive.

The refugees also expressed concerns about changes to the FoodShare program. Say Wah, a refugee from Burma, reminded legislators of how the new FoodShare cuts going into effect will impact her adult children who would like to pursue college but have restricted access to grants and less support from that program. A photo exhibition in the rotunda, Hunger Next Door, sponsored by Hunger Task Force, shed light on the difficult economic choices facing many families.

Many thanks to Milwaukee Peace Corps Association whose grant provided transportation for the group.

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Holiday Party is a Massive Multicultural Feast

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Scenes from the annual Holiday Party at International Learning Center – a massive multicultural feast of food, music, friendship!

Performances included a tribute to Woody Guthrie (with support from Paul Cebar); four-part harmonies from Karen singers; elders from Burma, China, and Congo shaking it up; a Burmese beauty queen reminding us of the value of learning; traditional carols sung by people from many nations; and pre-schoolers showing off their ABCs.

Special thanks to instructor Jean Richie and the good folk of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Germantown whose Giving Tree provided Christmas gifts for all; Susan and Mary Maronek whose constant flow of donated clothing has helped many a newcomer stay warm in these Milwaukee winters; and to the thirty-five volunteers who tutored English and citizenship.

A shout-out to guests from the resettlement community: Deb Rakowski, Claire Reuning, Natasa Torbica, Craig Stone, Valerie, Joann… the list goes on!

LISTEN TO ILC STUDENTS on Radio 88.9 – a big thanks to Dori Zori for posting this great radio story about the big dreams, hard work, and English under construction at International Learning Center!


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ILC students at Gallery Night with Hunger Task Force

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ILC students Ta Lah Aeet, his wife, Mu Tah, and their three children were among those featured in an unusual and moving photo project that made its debut on Gallery Night, Oct. 17th, 2014 in Hudson Business Cafe in the Third Ward. The exhibit highlights people who are ineligible for FoodShare (not just ILC students), due to their income, but are still greatly in need of the benefit. The exhibit depicts their day to day lives and struggles.

The project illustrates the reality of hunger in our community. Five families were given digital cameras to tell their story through photos. These families shared their privacy with the hope of changing how we view, understand and work to solve hunger.

Each family took photos capturing the challenges they face on a daily basis, and the ways they make ends meet so they can continue to feed themselves. These photos represent the untold stories of an alarming number of Wisconsinites who know what it’s like to worry about having enough food. Each year, 1 in 4 families in our community struggle with hunger.

We encourage you to attend and support our students, and all individuals facing this hardship. We are grateful to our in-house Hunger Task Force Advocate Jan (Mar Mar Ling) who has contributed so much to our community by assisting our students in FoodShare and WI Access benefits.

More here:

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