Literacy Center Serving Pakistani Women Struggles To Remain Open

Literacy Center Serving Pakistani Women Struggles To Remain Open
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English literacy students at BRICK. (Photo: Ditmas Park Corner)

A program that serves — and empowers — immigrant women in our community may be in danger of closing.

The Female Literacy Center housed at Brooklyn Rebuild Immigrant Community and Knowledge (BRICK) has a funding gap of about $15,000 that may close the program this spring, director Shahid Khan told us. He is currently seeking funding for the center from the New York City Council, the Mayor’s Office and the City.

The center — which serves women from our local Pakistani community — initially opened last October in response to the loss of adult literacy courses offered by the Council of Jewish Organizations. The funding for the Council’s program was eventually restored, but BRICK continues to offer literacy courses because of demand within our area.

BRICK has been providing English literacy classes at its Foster Avenue community center twice a week — on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 12pm.

BRICK’s program is the first literacy center in our area targeted specifically at Pakistani immigrant women, Khan said. It also serves as a place of discussion for its students, many of whom never went to school in Pakistan and did not learn to read and write in their own language, he added.

The courses have been essential to the women, Urdu speakers, who often spend their days inside the home while their husbands work and their children go to school, said Khan. Some of the students bring their young children to classes.

BRICK’s students have not only been impacted by political terrorism and religious extremism in Pakistan, but also by extremist attitudes from men in their community, Khan said.

Nonetheless, they have started new lives in the U.S. “They never accepted defeat,” Khan said.

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Some of the first graduates of BRICK’s literacy program last week with (standing center) Community Board 14 District Manager Shawn Campbell, City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene and BRICK director Shahid Khan. (Photo: BRICK)

In an interview with DPC last year, Khan spoke about the social isolation and disempowerment that comes from not speaking English. “We are unable to convey our views to others,” he said.

Parents who primarily speak Urdu have difficulty communicating with their children who have largely grown up here, Khan explained, and adults — particularly women — have trouble venturing outside the community because they don’t understand English.

With their newly acquired English language skills, BRICK students are able to speak directly with their doctors, for example, and shop and use mass transit independently.

BRICK’s literacy program had its first graduation ceremony last week. Twenty-one women have completed a literacy, English as a Second Language, and U.S. citizenship preparation curriculum.

Another round of classes is set to begin next week, Khan said.

Khan is trying to raise $15,000 to defray teaching and space costs incurred since last fall. BRICK applied for a $35,000 grant from the City Council this year that, combined with the money Khan is trying to raise, will make the program financially solvent until 2017, he said.

Khan can be reached through BRICK’s website if you have questions about the literacy center.

Two students at the literacy center recently become U.S. citizens, Khan said excitedly. The overall objective for the program, he explained, is to help his students integrate into U.S society — to “minimize cultural and social barriers” so that all the members of his community can be “good and productive citizens of this country.”


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