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The Newsletter of Portland English as a Second Language Scholarship Fund
June 2009
Volume I-Issue I  
In This Issue
This Years Recipients!
Former President Message
Want to Volunteer?
Updated Website
 -Joel Vango
-Regis Nsabe
-Patrick Mbenza
-Fetelwork Zegye
-Adelaide Manirakiza
-Fabiola Bigirimana
-Adrien Ruthiririza
-Adawia Alaari
-Roya Hejabian
-Kirongozi Ichalanga
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Democratic Republic of Congo


    Welcome to our inaugural newsletter, created to spread the word about the work of Portland English as a Second Language Scholarship Fund. Our mission is simple. We award scholarships to support refugees and immigrants in their quest to improve their English skills. Our work is best explained by our scholarship recipients. Therefore, this newsletter will serve as a vehicle for the people aided by PESLSF to share their stories, successes, and foster support from our friends and donors-past, present and future. Entering our 8th year of awarding scholarships, we are proud to be carrying on the vision of our founder, Harold Zagorin.
     Since its inception, PESLSF has given over $100,000 and 150 scholarships to people in need of English who have come from over 25 countries. No one can tell our story better than those you'll read about in this newsletter! So, read on and be amazed.

Deborah Murray
President of the PESLSF Board of Directors

Roya's Story
  After Roya Hejabian graduated high school in her home country of Iran, she was faced with a life-changing decision. As a Baha'i, she had been discriminated against all her life. Now she could not receive higher education unless she converted to Islam, the country's official religion. She chose not to change her faith, and instead applied for 'refugee' status with the UN.
         After getting help from the UN, she was placed in Turkey for 8 months while she waited to be located to another country. Finally, in September of 1997, she came to Maine.  Although she had received basic English lessons in Iran and had studied the language during her time in Turkey, her grasp of the language was still very limited. She found it difficult to navigate through a new culture. Despite the troubles, she was happy to have found a new life in Maine. "It's so peaceful here, I immediately fell in love," she says.
         Soon enough, Roya began attending ESL classes at USM, as well as volunteering as an interpreter for other immigrants from the Middle East. Working mostly through Maine Medical Center, she was able to help others overcome the language barrier that she had also encountered. "There was this elderly lady that I especially remember," says Roya as she explains her most rewarding case where she had to interpret for a woman headed into major surgery. "She told me if she was going to die, at least I'd be there to understand her last wishes." Eventually Roya became self-employed as well as working as an interpreter at Maine Medical.
         Roya kept working as she continued her education. In the Fall of 2008, she received a scholarship from the Portland English as a Second Language Scholarship Fund, tailored specifically towards medical interpreting. The scholarship allowed her to take a course she could barely afford to buy the book for, and has set her up to begin attending Graduate school in 2009.
         Today, Roya works mostly at her job with the Community Counseling Center, where she is a Refugee and Immigrant Children's Case Manager. When she has time, she is also still self-employed as an interpreter. With the power of language in her hands, Roya has had a rewarding past and is looking forward to how she can help more people in the future.
Message from Former President E'nkul Kanakan:  
 Board of Directors                                        
     I came to Portland with the help from Catholic Charities of Maine in May 1996 during the civil war in Burundi. At the time, I worked for the American Embassy in Bujumbura as Assistant to the Consul of the United States of America and my position angered many locals; my life and the lives of my wife and four children were threatened numerous times. All I knew was that we had to get out, fast. Placed on Priority 1, we were gone in less than a week and headed for America. However, this was not the first time I resettled. I fled from my home country of The Democratic Republic of the Congo as a political refugee in 1983. I was fortunate to have obtained my Masters degree in Education with Specialization in English as a Foreign Language and speaking six languages allowed me to communicate efficiently. But for many people, if you cannot say what you want to say, you feel powerless.
     Many people resettle in Portland because they had to leave their countries due to war and terror. They do not come here to take! They come to make a better life for themselves and their family. When I see people walking along the road in Portland who look like they might be immigrants, I pick them up. Although I realize that this can sometimes be considered unsafe, most of the time we can tell who is good and who is not. Imagine needing to go to the hospital and not being able to find your way or say what you need. When it comes to health and well-being, language can potentially be a deadly barrier.
I know the transition to a new country can be one of immense struggle and frustration. We need more tolerance and understanding. Perhaps it is because many Americans believe that they alone are entitled to government resources. I think we should be asking the question  "What is entitlement? What is to be shared?".
     America would not exist without immigrants and refugees and so it is our duty to help them in their acculturation. Many immigrants, like myself, are highly educated but yet, we hit a wall upon arriving in the U.S. because our knowledge, although validated, is not useful without being able to communicate.
     That is what PESLSF is for. PESLSF has granted scholarships that enable recipients to come out of a class able to speak English, join Maine's workforce, and have a better life. Every semester 5-10 scholarships are awarded to people who don't have good English language skills and who need more English to employ the skills they learned in their home country.
     PESLSF is an organization that has helped hundreds of people join the workforce, speak their needs, and ease their transition into a new way of life. I have enjoyed serving as the PESLSF Board President for the last eight years and look forward to staying involved with this very important organization. Thank you for your encouragement, aid, and continued support in our efforts to use the power of language to build Maine's workforce.

 -E'nkul Kanakan
Gregoire's Story


       "My country was in trouble, so I decided it was best for me to come here," explains Gregoire Butera, as if the move from his home country of Rwanda to the United States was that easy. After a little more explanation though, the circumstances under which he came to this country become more evident.
         It was 2002 when Butera finally decided it was unsafe for his family to remain in Rwanda. Because it was not possible to obtain visas for him, his wife and their four children, Gregoire decided that he must go ahead on his own and get things started for his family in the United States. After arriving in Manchester, New Hampshire in December of that year, Gregoire stayed with a friend for a couple weeks until moving to Portland to begin a new life.
         Immediately he found out how difficult life was in a new country without knowing the language. "At the beginning everything was hard because this country was totally different from Rwanda," says Bouthero. "To learn a new language, a new culture, a new lifestyle, it is not easy. It takes some sacrifices and time." The greatest sacrifice of all, of course, was coping with these difficulties without having his family by his side for support. It wasn't until April of 2004 that he was able to secure travel for them to the United States.
         After his family arrived, it seemed like things began to fall into place. In 2005 he received a scholarship from Portland English as a Second Language Scholarship fund and began studying ESL at the University of Southern Maine. It was a necessary step before he could continue on to study in the Nursing program as he had hoped. "There's no way to do ESL and another program, you have to learn English first," explains Gregoire. Later that year after the scholarship, he also landed work at Granite Bay Care in Portland, a job that he holds to this day.
         Gregoire's wife also learned to speak and write English through Portland's Adult Education courses and has since begun attending classes at SMCC. She also landed a job working in the WIC program at PROP based out of Portland. "She is motivated to increase her English because of her job, and because everything here is run in English," says Gregoire.
         The Butera family seems to have settled in comfortably to their new life in America, a fact which Gregoire attributes to learning the English language. He is grateful for being given a chance through the scholarship. "ESL classes were a key for my life here in this country," he says. "Everything I can do and everything I will do is because of ESL."
Interested in Volunteering? 
PESLSF is always looking for people who want to help. There are a variety of positions available and all of them are rewarding on many levels. Contact Deb Murray at debbym@gwi.net for more information.
  • Updated photos
  • Fresh, New colors
  • Resource Links
  • Application-coming soon!
  • Newsletter Archive
Deb Murray-President & Everyone at PESLSF
Back Row (left to right): Susan Martens, Anne Grimes, E'nkul E. Kanakan, Ellen Mugar, Deborah Murray. Front Row (left to right): Eleanor Goldberg, Solange Kellermann, Matt Tarasevich, Valerie DeVuyst. Not Pictured: Lori Londis Dwyer, Bridget Chase, Claude Kirongozi.
This newsletter, the refurbished website, new brochure and display board were created by a team of students from USM in Dennis Gilbert's Service Learning Practicum:
Krista Bertalan-Katrina Botelho-Kristi McHugh-Brandon McKenney
    Your contributions are so greatly appreciated by the students that PESLSF reaches out to. The power of language will help ease the transition for refugees and immigrants, create confidence and independence and build Maine's workforce to promote diversity and many levels of prosperity.