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Lessons in English, life in area offered to newcomers
Area church helps refugee children keep up with studies this summer

 Happy Ishimuse (left) and Elizabete Fatuma make masks during the summer day camp.
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RELATED: Camp helps family learn English

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Date published: 8/12/2008


A group of middle school girls stand around the table, joking and working on summer camp scrapbooks.

Anai Yui, 13 and adorned with five plastic wristbands and a multicolored friendship bracelet, met-iculously glues a photo of her and a camp friend to black paper.

With a metallic marker, Anai writes the same message she wrote on her previous scrapbook page, "Camp Rocks." She draws a squiggly circle around the message.

She walks on fuschia-tipped toes and denim-clad long legs to a table to flip through more photos.

During nine weeks of summer camp, Anai has collected a fair share of friends, memories and photos.

Those are the cornerstones of what Anai calls her "new life," her almost two years in Fredericksburg. When she arrived Sept. 20, 2006 from Kenya, Anai left behind her father, grandmother and two best friends.

She rarely sees photos of her father, who returned to Sudan. Anai, her mother and two brothers came to America, and she's starting to forget details of her dad. But she remembers her favorite thing was simply, "Seeing his face every single day."

When Anai came here, she spoke no English and couldn't read. She learned the language with help from a friend, also a refugee, she met at Heritage Park apartments off Fall Hill Avenue.

The Fredericksburg Ref-ugee Service Center, part of the Arlington Catholic Diocese refugee resettlement program, helped Anai's family find the apartment.

And the city schools taught her to read. Anai loves school and hopes to become a lawyer one day so she "can make a lot of money and help people in Africa."

Studying is crucial to that goal. So she was happy that the camp at her apartment complex focused on English for Speakers of Other Languages classes.

The camp, which ended last week, is sponsored by Fredericksburg Baptist Church. It aims to help Anai and the 57 other refugee students enrolled in city schools keep up with and improve their English skills during the summer.

The children recite the camp's name, SOKS at the beginning of each two-hour session. The letters stand for Sema, Ota, Kua, Soma, which is Swahili for "speak, dream, grow, read."

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While working with the refugee children in Fredericksburg earlier this year, Courtney Chapman and others saw the need for a summer program to help them succeed in their public school classes.

Chapman, a social work graduate student who interned with Micah Ecumenical Ministries and Fredericksburg Baptist Church, said they created the nine-week camp to reinforce English skills, culture and friendships for the more than 100 refugee children in the Fredericksburg area.

Fredericksburg Baptist Church chose Heritage Park Apartments as the site because many of the refugee families settle in the rent-subsidized complex off Fall Hill Avenue. The camp operated with help from church volunteers, three college interns, a teacher from Hugh Mercer Elementary School, the drama department at Riverbend High School and the Sunshine Lady Foundation.

--Amy Flowers Umble

The refugees in Fredericksburg have been determined by the U.S. government to face persecution in their home countries on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. They are allowed to live in the United States indefinitely to protect them from persecution in their home countries. Refugees get their status before coming to the U.S., while asylum seekers obtain their status after arrival. Refugees may eventually get green cards.

There are more than 200 refugees in the Fredericksburg area. Most come from African countries.

The summer camp for refugee children is a step toward a multicultural center.

When the Rev. Larry Haun, pastor of Fredericksburg Baptist Church, first thought of the program, he knew the perfect name: The Bill Dyal Multicultural Center.

Dyal, a church member, traveled the world as a missionary, Peace Corps director and head of international relief efforts before settling in Fredericksburg. Haun envisions a center that will help the refugees and other international residents struggling to acclimate to Fredericksburg. The center doesn't have a home yet but has completed its first project--the SOKS summer camp.