Damakant Jayshi

With the arrival of new refugees in Wausau and neighboring areas approaching, the City of Wausau’s Liberation and Freedom Committee will discuss needs of the newcomers, including English language assistance, this week.

Former Wausau School District’s Director of Education and English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher Nell Anderson will offer an educational presentation “on identifying additional needs and barriers for refugees.”

“English as a Second Language (ESL), particularly in relation to educational settings (given Ms. Anderson’s background), although I would not be surprised if the presentation touches on other settings as well,” Tom Kilian, chair of the LF Committee told Wausau Pilot & Review.

Wausau is set to see the arrival of 10 individuals by the end of the year, provided all logistics are in place, and all will be from Afghanistan. Another 75 refugees could be resettled from January through September 2022. In addition to Afghanistan, they could be from Congo, Sudan and Myanmar.

“The individuals to be resettled in Wausau have not yet been identified but it has been decided that they will be from Afghanistan and come from one of the Safe Haven military bases where individuals are currently being processed and waiting for resettlement through the Afghan Placement and Assistance (APA) program,” Emily Gilkinson from the Ethiopian Community Development Council told Wausau Pilot & Review. ECDC is one of the nine national refugee resettlement agencies whose resettlement plan for refugees in Wausau was approved by the U.S. Department of State in September.

Until late last month, 55,000 evacuees from Afghanistan were living in eight military bases in the U.S. since Afghanistan’s capital Kabul fell to the Taliban in August, the aftermath of which was marked by a chaotic evacuation. More than 9,000 have been resettled in local communities across the country.

Among the immediate needs and challenges for the newcomers are finding housing and jobs and getting children enrolled in schools, as well as navigating the language barrier. Many refugees and their children not only face cultural shock upon arriving in a new country but also the immediate difficulty of communication, as they have limited or no English knowledge and, in some cases, an interrupted education.

ECDC has partnered with local organizations in Wausau to prepare the city for the new refugees but challenges remain.

“Recruitment of a case manager(s) and office support staff/volunteers is ongoing, but has been slow,” Adam VanNoord, director of ECDC’s Multicultural Community Center in Wausau told Wausau Pilot & Review.

VanNoord added that they are also working partners on the ESL front by collaborating with McLit (Marathon County Literacy Council) for broad literacy needs of those with very little to no English language proficiency and with Northcentral Technical College “to provide more structured, ongoing coursework which will effectively take people through 6 levels of English Language Learning through in-person/virtual and technology based curriculum.”

Partners are in touch with area school districts, he said.

During a panel discussion on Oct. 7 organized by the New Beginnings for Refugees, a coalition of volunteers formed to help with the resettlement program, area district school authorities said they were preparing to welcome new students. Dr. Kelly Thompson, Director of Curriculum at the D.C. Everest Area School District told the panel that her district was “pretty well-prepared” and has teams in place, including “English language learner teacher team” and student and counseling services for the newcomers.

The Liberation and Freedom Committee meeting is being held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., and via teleconference. Those interested may attend in person, or by calling 1-408-418-9388. The Access Code is: 2484 620 2585 and the password is wausau1. Those who wish to view the meeting live over the internet can do so on the City of Wausau’s YouTube Channel http://www.tinyurl.com/WAAMedia, live by cable TV, Channel 981. The meeting can also be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/WausauCityCouncil.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.