Free English classes help Chaldeans new to Metro Detroit

bilde.jpgCharles E. Ramirez/ The Detroit News
Warren— Learning English hasn’t come easy for Lamyaa Petros, but it’s getting easier, she said.

Petros, 37, of Sterling Heights came to Detroit from Iraq about 8 months ago.

She is learning her ABCs and how to read and write from left to right instead of right to left like in Arabic.

“I’ve always wanted to learn English,” Petros said Thursday through a classmate, Saher Elias.

Petros and Elias are part of a popular new program for Chaldean immigrants trying to learn English at Macomb Community College, part of a partnership between the college and the Chaldean Community Foundation. Held at Macomb’s South Campus on 12 Mile and Hayes, classes started last month and will run through July 8.

“My instructor has been great,” Petros said.

Her instructor, Noreen Rose, said Petros’ praise is nice to hear.

She also said her students are to be admired for their determination.

“They come to America not knowing anything about English or the language,” Rose said. “They have to start from the very beginning, with their ABCs. For many people, it would be demeaning. But they come to class and they’re excited to learn.”

Chaldeans are the indigenous people of Iraq. Most are Catholic and speak a form of Aramaic, but many also speak Arabic. Many have been forced to flee Iraq because of ethnic and religious persecution.

The largest Chaldean population outside Iraq is in Metro Detroit, where an estimated 121,000 Iraqi Catholics live, according to the foundation. The group projects 10,000 Chaldean refugees will settle in the area over the next two years.

At Macomb, 45 students, including Petros and Elias, come twice a week for four-hour sessions.

Students are divided into two levels: beginners and more advanced.

The classes are free, paid for by the Chaldean Community Foundation through a Michigan Department of Community Health grant intended to help refugees assimilate to life in the United States.

Sharon Hannawa, program manager at the foundation’s Sterling Heights office, said the response to the classes has been so overwhelming, the group and college are in discussions to continue the program.

“We started the program to help people with the language barrier,” she said. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback and already have a waiting list for the next session.”

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