If you want to improve your reading, writing, or English-speaking skills, or know someone who does, please contact our office at 434-977-3838.
We offer free one-on-one tutoring for basic literacy, conversational partnering and group classes for non-native English speakers as tutors become available.
Need Help Reading, Writing, or Speaking English? Need Help Reading, Writing, or Speaking English? If you want to improve your reading, writing, or English-speaking skills, or know someone who does, please contact our office at 434-977-3838. We offer free one-on-one tutoring for basic literacy, conversational partnering and group classes for non-native English speakers as tutors become available.
"From No Shoes to Driving a Car"
featured in the 2017 edition of The Joy of Writing
What is happening now is that I am learning a lot. Before I came to the U.S., I was born in a bamboo hut in a jungle in Burma. We grew our own rice and corn. We relied a lot on the buffalo to help work the farm. Nobody taught me about how to learn and to have a better life. I was 19 years old. We lived in the jungle where there were no cities, electricity, bicycles, shoes or cars. We never saw these things. We never saw anything in the dark because we had no lights.
There was a problem. The military said we could not stay in the jungle. They told us we had to move to the city. But some people didn’t want to. So, we ran away to Thailand. We became refugees. I became a man without a country.
For the first time in my life I found out what a school was. In the refugee camp I started taking adult learning classes once a week. I was learning Burmese, English and Karenni for the first time. Finally, I was learning how to read and write. Whenever I saw someone reading or writing something in camp I asked them to teach me what they knew. The most important thing to me at the refugee camp was getting educated and finding a better life for myself and my growing family.
I lived in the crowded camp for ten long years. I heard someone talking about going to the U.S. Many of us applied to go there and in about one year I settled in Charlottesville, VA, with my Burmese wife and two young sons.
After I was here for 6 months I started my first job and have it up until now. Two more children joined our family, another son and a daughter. They are Americans. My three sons go to school. One in middle school, one in elementary school and one in preschool. I hope the children will have a better future as they are learning at a much younger age than I did.
So how is life different from Burma? For 30 years I walked everywhere. Everyday I saw big, high mountains. I went to the river to bathe. We had no soap. Instead we used the seed from a tree to rub ourselves. In Charlottesville the mountains are much shorter and taking a shower is easy because the water is in my house. Also different is the cooking. Before we cooked with a fire and here it is easier to use an electric stove. We don’t grow our own food, like in Burma, but we go to the local park, we go to school, we drive an old car, listen to music and have two cell phones.
Now I learn English one night a week at Literacy Volunteers. My children started school when they were very young. Then they can get better jobs or even a job as a manager. It seems like the boss does little work and gets much money.
I am no longer a man without a country. I became an official citizen of the United States in 2016 and am proud to call the U.S. our home. I also registered to vote.
Life is much easier for us in Virginia.
Most importantly, I want to thank the kind volunteers who patiently taught me English and how to read and write. Also how to talk to the people in the stores, at work, and with my new friends.
Nidhal Al Sarhan
“Is There Another Chance?”
featured in the 2016 edition of The Joy of Writing
“Is there another chance for me?” I asked myself this question several times every day through the month after I lost my right arm because of a car accident in Baghdad in 1995.
“Try to write.” My wife gave me a pen and paper and said that.
“What!” I said.
“You can do it,” she said.
“I can’t. You know that,” I answered.
“No, I do not,” she said, and added, “You don’t know if you don’t try.” Before she left the bedroom, she said, “If you do not do this for yourself, do it for us, for your family.”
Why did my wife want that? Because she knew me. Writing for me is like water for fish. I could not be a normal person if I did not write again. At that time, there were no computers in Iraq except in the government and a few rich people had them.
I tried to write two or three times, and threw the pen and paper far away. This time was a bad time; I still could not accept the fact that I had lost my right hand. After that, I saw my wife from the window. She was crying. I took the pen and wrote letter-by-letter, word-by-word, day by day until I could write again, and that helped me to be a lot better and gave me hope again.
For six months, I sent many letters to different places; I explained my situation and asked about a job or volunteering. One day, I received a message from Research and Studies Sufi Center. When I went there, I said to myself, “This center is made for me.” What should I do? I just wrote some quotes that were chosen by other people. I was happy because these people were very friendly and the job was exactly what I wanted. After a couple of months, when the supervisor saw my passion through reading and that I understood what they wanted, he made me the person who chose the quotes.
In 1997, I was Assistant Manager, and in 1999, the management moved to another center and I became the new manager. I worked in this center until 2010. Through these fifteen years I was a professor at the Arab Open University for North America. After I got a Ph.D., I developed a new theory in philosophy.
Today I feel proud of the large projects that we have made, such as an encyclopedia composed of twenty-four volumes, more than twenty small books, and hundreds of research studies and reports. Besides that, I wrote six books about my theory, including “The Final Answers” and “Think Outside the Box.”
I still remember what my wife asked of me and I think, if she had not done that, would my life be as it is now? I do not think so.
Now I can say, “If someday you are broken, just trust someone you love more than anyone and remember there is always another chance.”
“Maryam’s Story” in the 2015 edition of The Joy of Writing.
I was born in Afghanistan. My parents had a very big farm there. They grew wheat and potatoes.
Now, after living in Iran and Turkey, two of my daughters and I have come to the U.S. where I am learning English. I like the people in Charlottesville. They are soft (not loud) and nice.
The IRC is helping me to have a vegetable garden where I can grow tomatoes, peppers, beans, beets, carrots, and more to sell. Then I can put down roots in Charlottesville…real roots!
Pick up a copy of THE JOY OF WRITING, our collection of student essays, at the Literacy Volunteers office.