The Adult Learning Center is located in the basement of the Lewiston Multipurpose Center, downstairs from Longley School and across the street from the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

In addition to offering adult basic education and workforce training courses, the center is the place where immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from over 20 countries around the world go to learn English. They understand all too well that speaking English is one of the most important skills they need to learn in order to earn a living, provide for their families, and make a contribution to the new community they have become a part of.

These classes, formally known as “English for Speakers of Other Languages,” range from the most basic beginning level for people who know no English and have never learned to read or write, to more advanced classes that prepare people for doing high school work and for becoming United States citizens.

I have taught English to students at the Adult Learning Center for over 10 years; I have taught anthropology to students at Bates College for over 30 years. The two schools are very different, and the two groups of students I teach come from very different worlds.

I have been privileged to have the opportunity to bring these two worlds together — worlds so far removed from one another, but worlds that also have a great deal in common. Both worlds are filled with students eager to learn important skills and teachers who find joy and fulfillment in sharing their knowledge with others.

Each May, during the Bates College Short Term, I teach a course titled “Encountering Community: Ethnographic Fieldwork and Service Learning,” in which students learn how to conduct individual anthropological research on a topic of their choice. They also participate in a program of service learning, which for many years has involved helping African refugees learn English.

Many Bates students find their work at the Adult Learning Center among the most valuable experiences they have during their college career. Every year I ask students to write a short essay in which they reflect on what their teaching at the center has meant to them.

The essays show clearly that it is possible to establish meaningful relationships with people who are very different from you, people with whom you do not even share a language in common. The essays also convey the powerful message that African refugees are individual human beings with unique personalities and a lifetime of experiences.

Finally, I hope, these essays give us some insight into the courage and the dignity with which Lewiston’s newest residents are dealing with the tragedies, the challenges and the opportunities they have faced since their departure from their old homes in Africa and their arrival in their new homes in Lewiston.

We offer a sampling here.

Loring Danforth teaches anthropology at Bates College.


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