Rawnak Hazim’s ambitions did not stop at learning the English language when she came to the United States as a refugee two years ago. But that’s where her journey toward living the American Dream began.
Hazim has spent the past two years as a dedicated student in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program sponsored by Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, where she went from speaking and understanding English at a minimal level to developing near fluency.
The energetic mother of three spoke with confidence and gratitude, “I only spoke a little bit of English before I came here. But I wanted and needed to learn so much more,” she explained. “Catholic Charities has allowed me to do that.”
Originally from Iraq, Hazim lived in Malaysia for eight years before moving to Audubon with her husband and children, ages 3, 11 and 13.
“I came to every single class at Catholic Charities,” she said. “I learned English grammar and vocabulary. I practiced speaking English with my teacher, volunteers and other students. I also learned how to connect with people.”
This month, Hazim began formal classes at Camden County College to refine her language skills. She still comes to Catholic Charities for assistance with homework and studying with Tarek Mousa, her ESL teacher.
Hazim is just one of more than 45 students who are currently part of the Catholic Charities ESL program with Mousa.
“Rawnak Hazim is a very motivated young woman,” beams Mousa. “She and the many other participants in our ESL program are so eager to assimilate and be productive members of our community. They know how important English proficiency is to achieving that goal, and they want to learn fast.”
Mousa, a native Arabic-speaker who has been teaching ESL for one year at Catholic Charities, explained his teaching style. “I don’t just teach language and grammar. I teach culture lessons too, because that’s just as important for our immigrants and refugees to learn. I also try to help them the best I can with things like food and clothes, even though that’s not my job,” Mousa said, smiling as he carried a box of newly donated clothes past the ESL classroom. “If they’re worried about basic things like food and clothes, then learning English will not be their priority.”
“Mr. Tarek has helped me so much,” said Hazim. “He is such a wonderful teacher. He answers every question I have and is never tired or angry, and is always patient. … not just toward me, but toward everyone here.”
Hazim is determined to study computer science, a field she believes holds great opportunity for her, at Camden County College, but she stressed the importance of mastering English first.
“Right now, I only have a high school level of education,” she explained, “but I want to advance. I need to learn English well and be able to communicate effectively if I want a good job.”
In describing her hopes and plans for the future, Hazim focused on choosing the perfect words. “There is so much opportunity in this country — to learn, to succeed, to follow your dreams. My family is so fortunate to start our new life here. A life that begins with learning to speak English perfectly,” she added with a smile.