When Regina Sanchez first moved to Canada in 2007 from Colombia she was told by an employer in Calgary she wouldn’t be hired because her English wasn’t strong enough.
After finding a job at a motel in Radium Hot Springs, her new employer connected her with the Windermere Valley chapter of the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL), an organization which runs a variety of literacy-improving programs in the area — including an English as a Second Language and Settlement Assistance Program.
Soon she was meeting with her tutor, Betty Knight, once a week and taking part in a conversation course. Her language goal is to improve her English to the point where it’s not an obstacle to getting a job in the future.
Though the ESLSAP program — which focuses on language and cultural education for new immigrants to Canada — has been running in other parts of the East Kootenay for several years, it only came to the valley last year.
“Statistically, we don’t have enough immigrants here,” says Knight, who is also the East Kootenay regional co-ordinator for CBAL, in addition to her tutoring duties.
“But over the years we’ve been working with some people who would have qualified, so we just this spring got some funding to be able to start this formal program.”
Learners and tutors develop programs individually, depending on what sort of skills a participant is hoping to build.
“For instance, the learner I’m working with, she sometimes needs to greet people who come to the hotel where she works and show them a room,” says Knight. “So I’ve been working with her on what she can say to people in that situation.”
Tutoring can also focus on language skills needed for parent-teacher conferences, banking, or other day-to-day tasks.
While interest in the program has started to rise, Knight says the local CBAL chapter is facing one difficulty as the program grows: there aren’t enough tutors to go around.
“We had seven students last year,” she says. With only three tutors active in the valley, many weren’t able to get one-on-one help.
CBAL is putting the call out for new volunteer tutors, and hopes to launch a training program later this month.
“We’re not announcing a date, because we’re willing to be flexible depending on who contacts us,” says Knight. “If people are willing to come on two Saturdays, then we’ll do it on two Saturdays. If they’d rather do it on four evenings, we can do it on four evenings.”
To sign up for tutor training, or learn more about the program, call local CBAL co-ordinator Yolande Dolman at 250-342-9229.
Tutors should be willing to commit to one two-to-four hour training session a week for at least six months.
For more on CBAL visit cbal.org.