COLLEGE PARK – In a community filled with immigrants and refugees, one group is attempting to make the transition to the United States a little easier by providing a basic computer literacy class. For the second year, the Cornerstone Technical Literacy Initiative is gearing up to provide a free technology basics class to immigrant and […]
COLLEGE PARK – In a community filled with immigrants and refugees, one group is attempting to make the transition to the United States a little easier by providing a basic computer literacy class.
For the second year, the Cornerstone Technical Literacy Initiative is gearing up to provide a free technology basics class to immigrant and refugee women, held at the University of Maryland. Everything from the instruction to a ride to and from the class is free of charge to the women involved.
And though it is heading into its second year after a successful launch in 2015, Cornerstone started from just one big idea from its founder Sarah Chu.
Chu, who holds a master’s degree in international relations and foreign policy, said the idea came to her as she worked in the field. She said she wanted to create a program that got away from the abstract, overarching ideas of policy and got down on ground where she could see an impact on people’s daily lives.
“We wanted to get a little further away from the high-up policy and a little bit more on the ground, like seeing daily results and helping actual people. Connecting with people made us feel like we were having an impact in the community,” Chu said.
Now, as Cornerstone prepares to start class on July 11, the team is four members strong with the additional assistance of two interns. While the University of Maryland does not directly host the class, it has donated a van for transportation (since transportation is a large inhibitor for many refugees and immigrants), provided the laboratory space for the class and funded an intern.
Chu said almost 100 percent of the class is funded through grants and in-kind donations, much like those from the university. Without the help, the program would cost the group, who all work as volunteers on the initiative outside of their regular day jobs, approximately $7,000.
Chu said Cornerstone began a second year of sessions in “response to the need” she sees in the community. She said as immigrants and refugees settle into the country, they often times have difficulty assimilating, not due to lack of trying but rather to a difference in culture.
Sadia Khawar, the communications and outreach director for Cornerstone, said refugees from other countries, such as Syria, have often left successful careers behind or have the skills necessary for jobs, but are hindered in the job search by not knowing technology.
Chu agreed and said more than 50 percent of jobs today require some form of technical literacy, from knowing how to type and open a word processor document and knowing how to send an email to internet searches and using spreadsheets.
“So we wanted to help people prepare for a wider selection of jobs and also, from a cultural perspective, help people integrate into society a little better. Understanding tech can help you understand the culture of America,” Chu said.
During the class, students will learn computer basics. The course is based off of the knowledge necessary for the students to earn and achieve the Northstar Digital Literacy Agency’s digital literacy certification. Lessons include learning the individual parts of a computer, such as the mouse, the keyboard and the tower and how they function, setting up an email account and learning how to use Microsoft Office programs.
The course lasts six sessions with two testing sessions and ends with an earned digital literacy certification. Last year 10 of the 15 students graduated with their certification.
“The idea is really to let people get comfortable with the computer rather than being an expert with Excel or Microsoft,” Khawar said. “It’s more them getting familiarity with the computer.”
Khawar said it is also about opening doors to refugees, as they will also show them how to search for jobs online, such as through online job finders and applications such as Care.com, Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com
While they said digital literacy is important to helping immigrants and refugee women better acclimate themselves to the U.S., both Chu and Khawar said another key aspect of the program is providing a safe space for women to learn while helping them build friendships and connections.
“It’s about empowerment,” Chu said. “Its about people feeling like they can leave the house and have somewhere to go.”
Together Cornerstone and its students created a community that helped each other through the class and have kept in contact through their new email accounts.
“We’re connecting them with each other so they can feel more comfortable. That’s very important to us as well,” Khawar said.
Although the initiative reached 10 graduates last year, Chu and Khawar said they expect their numbers to grow and they hope to continue the program until there is no longer a need.
Khawar, who emigrated from Pakistan herself, said she knows how important this work is to the people they impact and said she hopes to continue helping well into the future.
“It’s very important for all of us that we become a part of the solution because everyone can talk about international displacement or the refugee crisis, but it’s not going to end shortly. And the same goes for the stability and prosperity of developing countries and war-torn countries,” Khawar said. “So you can be on a side that just complains about it and worry about, but this is happening right in the U.S. The refugee population is increasing, so I think it’s important to be part of the solution rather than just observing.”
If you are interested in taking the class, please contact Cornerstone Technical Literacy Initiative by emailing them at Cornerstonetechliteracy@gmail.com or calling 571-287-9478. You can also visit their website at http://cstoneinitiative.wix.com/cstoneinitiative.