Umoja struggles to maintain high need for ESL classes for immigrants and refugees

photo illustration by Audrey McKinnon

An African-focused immigrant and refugee organization is taking funds from youth and outreach programs to meet the high demand for English as a second language classes in Surrey.

“We are having a lot of challenges with literacy,” said Umoja Operation Compassion Society manager Felix Kongyuy.

Kongyuy said they currently have 81 ESL students, compared to the near 60 they were more comfortable with two years ago. The current funding they have can’t support the increase in demand.

“We have to cut back hours of some of the outreach workers,” he said.

Meanwhile, UOCS only has one part-time paid instructor for the three over capacity English classes.

“The room is so small and we don’t know what to do with most of them,” said Kongyuy about the students.

Students have been requesting night classes, but the society is unable to help them. Kongyuy said this leaves immigrants and refugees limited in the kind of work they can accept. With daytime classes, they are forced to work around that schedule if they want to take the ESL classes.

There is also a three-month-long waiting list to get into the year-long ESL class.

Vancouver Foundation and United Way are among others that help fund UOCS.

This story is important because small details like these really hamper the lives of new Canadians who are trying to get settled and often scraping by.

I wonder if demand for ESL has increased in other organizations in Surrey.

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