Sil Ganzó began working with the immigrant and refugee community in 2010, when she was hired as an administrative assistant for a new after school program in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood called The Bridge.
That program was managed by a for-profit tutoring company and was primarily focused on refugee students.
At that time, Sil, like many other Charlotte neighbors, was not aware that Charlotte was the biggest refugee resettlement city in North Carolina, welcoming about 600 individuals per year.
During her first year as an admin, Sil became deeply involved with the families and their cultures. Beyond the festivities, the food, the languages, customs and traditions, she learned about a very different reality these families were living in, to what she has lived as a new comer herself back in 2003.
Refugees receive up to three months of financial support and guidance upon their arrival. The families she worked with were struggling to figure out how to start over in an unknown land, while learning English and working full-time. But what struck her the most was realizing that the children were losing their childhood in the process of resettlement and acculturation.
Here Sil learned that many refugee and immigrant children have endured complex struggles such as family separation, life in refugee camps, cultural shock and learning English while, at the same time, understanding and coping with a new culture and social expectations. Once they start learning English, they usually become the official interpreters for their parents, which in many cases meant that parents lost authority over their children. Because most parents work second shift (2pm-10pm), kids as young as 8 years old were making their own decisions as far as where to be after school, when to go home or to stay out on the streets without supervision.
Sil also noticed that there wasn’t another program like the one for which she was now in charge. There were, however, homework-focused, faith-based after school programs that also included a strong component for conversion. By talking with Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu parents, Sil learned that they were not comfortable with this, and that they would rather leave the children alone at home, even if that meant not having academic support.
ourBRIDGE was Born
By the second year, Sil was offered the Program Director’s position, which she held until the program was set to close in May 2014.
Because of her close relationships with the families, school teachers and community partners, Sil decided to not let the program end. She took everything she learned and dreamed of creating a program that would cover all of the academic and socio-emotional needs of newly arrived and 1st generation American children and their families.
She wanted to teach them English in a happy, nurturing, freeing space that would represent every culture in an illuminating, inspirational way. That is why she founded ourBRIDGE as a not-for-profit organization.
Today, ourBRIDGE is an inclusive program that embraces all beliefs and encourages the children to feel proud of their backgrounds and their beautiful accents. ourBRIDGE emphasizes the importance of listening to parents and working hard.
It offers its refugee and immigrant children great experiences and opportunities to find out what they love to do and what they are really good at doing.
The Future is Bright
In the past two years, Sil, Mr. Andrew and Ms. Linda, along with many awesome tutors and volunteers, have become leaders in the out-of-school time nationwide.
The American Institute for Research, Youth Today, and the National Afterschool Association have asked Sil to share her strategies and techniques to teach English to ELL children, the ourBRIDGE way.
But there is still tons to do! In the future, ourBRIDGE staff and families dream of finding a new, bigger home in order to include Middle School, offer ESL classes for parents and extend our hours to include more Nepali, Arabic and Spanish language and culture classes to help ourBRIDGE children become fully bilingual.
And while we are dreaming… let’s have ourBRIDGE centers all over the United States!