REGISTRATION AVAILABLE NOW: Jan. 10th @ 3:00 ET What is a Refugee?: Dominant Discourses in Education and the Importance of Counter-Narratives

Join Suzanne McCurdy and Bayan Tawakalna to explore the role of counter-narratives as a pedagogical tool to enable refugee individuals to produce and negotiate their own identities and challenge widespread notions of what it means to be a refugee.

Members, please feel free to pose questions and comments related to your own work with refugees here in our community.

You won't want to miss this event!


Suzanne McCurdy's Bio: Suzanne McCurdy has worked with adult refugee language learners and their teachers in the Minnesota ABE system for 20 years. She is currently a PhD student and has centered several projects on this area of study.

Bayan Tawakalna's Bio: Bayan Tawakalna and her family came to the United States as Syrian refugees when she was a young adult. She enrolled in community college and then university soon after arriving in the US. Her experience as a refugee in US education systems brings a personal perspective to the discussion.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP


Hi Susan,

As usual, you always put together the most exciting events!

Dan Helms, the National Sales Director for an adult education publisher, recently sent me this about refugee work in Utah that fits your event so well:

"It has been said that service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. If true, then a group of people I had the privilege of meeting [on January 6], via Zoom, is certainly in the black.

"Most of us today are happy that we’ve nearly made it through another week. Meanwhile, it seems more challenging, lately, to focus on all that is going well when there are so many concerning stories competing for our attention. What I just learned from a group assisting refugees in Utah, though, has me rethinking my outlook and realizing how fortunate I am today.

"On September 9th, the Refugee Services Office (RSO) in Utah had an emergency meeting with the state governor. They were about to start receiving Afghan refugees and needed a plan of action. Eight military bases in the U.S. are providing temporary housing for all of these refugees – a program that is slated to end by March 2022. The refugees are received by the military bases and then sent from there, as quickly as possible, to different states that have chosen to accept them.

"The state created an International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC, as well as Catholic Community Services of UT (CCS), has taken on the challenge of receiving refugees – 1,666 of them to-date. Refugees come to them with no immigration status, so the IRC and CCS help them apply for asylum. The applications are all still pending. Then, these organizations move on to providing other services.

"Of the services being provided, the most urgent are: health screenings; vaccines; school enrollments; getting the adults documented with work authorizations (a 60-day process); crisis intervention; employment & training services; English language acquisition; and transitioning them from temporary to more permanent housing. Between the IRC and CCS, 4,589 services have been provided so far.

"Finding housing has been the biggest challenge. The refugees are mostly coming as families. Some are large families of 10 or more people. Many are young families with children, new moms, and expecting mothers. Finding landlords that will accept them has been difficult. Finding housing that is near public transportation, so that the refugees can work, is another layer of the problem.

"The RSO has had to launch fundraising efforts and has raised more than $1 million to date. Those giving the most are: individuals; foundations; philanthropic organizations, churches, and banks. Although federal funding is provided, it won’t cover all services. For example, they’ve had to pay for funerals, which are not covered by federal funding.

"Only about 15% of the refugees speak English. These are mostly the individuals who were serving the American contractors previously working in Afghanistan. They speak Pashto, Dari, and some speak Iranian. As the RSO focuses on crisis intervention (life skills, education, social integration) and employment training (job applications, resumes, interview preparation), English language training is crucial. 

"The RSO, IRC, and CCS workers have taken on a huge challenge, and this is the Afghan refugee story in only one state. Beyond refugees from Afghanistan, they are still receiving others from Syria, the Congo, Burma, and Sudan – 68 such new refugees in December alone. It was reported that staff is working around the clock, in a crisis atmosphere, with no time off unless someone becomes too sick to work."

Susan, your event is very timely! Thanks for all you do!

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 


Thanks for sharing this information from Utah, Steve. You are right that this event is timely. I know many other communities are or will soon be receiving Afghan refugees. Of course, adult ESL programs across the US have been working with refugees for many years, and I know that programs are pleased to have the opportunity to work with this latest group of newcomers.

The event today will offer important insights about supporting refugees with settling into American society. Hearing directly from Bayan Tawakalna, a refugee from Syria, as well as from Suzanne McCurdy, a grad student who has been studying counter-narratives, will be especially meaningful. 

Members, there is still time to register for today's live event scheduled for 3:00 ET.

Cheers, Susan