Dreaming of Citizenship

Zana Devlin | January 9, 2015

Back Row L-R: Volunteer Karen Salina, Volunteer Zana Devlin, Hlawn Khum, Jose Gonzalez Fonseca. Front Row L-R: Angel Guiracocha, Volunteer Sarah Browning. Photo: Courtesy CWS Durham

Back Row L-R: Volunteer Karen Salina, Volunteer Zana Devlin, Hlawn Khum, Jose Gonzalez Fonseca. Front Row L-R: Angel Guiracocha, Volunteer Sarah Browning. Photo: Courtesy CWS Durham

A long time ago, before I even started high school, my dream in life was to study and work in a country where I was free and could pursue any kind of studies that I wanted to.  To be exact, I wanted to study and work in the United States.

Growing up in Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, at the height of the clashes between the province’s ethnic Albanians and Serbs was challenging, horrifying, and very painful.   Not quite the type of crisis anyone would ever imagine growing up in.  It is said that one’s home is the safest refuge, but for Kosovar Albanians this was not the case during the late 1990’s.  After several failed attempts to flee the country, my family and I decided that we were going to remain in Kosovo no matter what happened in our war-torn country.

It’s been fifteen years since the war in Kosovo.  Life didn’t exactly go as planned, and there have certainly been many detours along the way, but I managed to pursue my studies in U.S and become a part of this beautiful country.  I was lucky enough to survive the war and slowly move on to pursue my childhood dreams.  It’s been ten years since I first came to United States to pursue my studies.  Although, never a refugee myself, my very first unofficial job after the war was as an interpreter for a small non-profit refugee acculturation agency that helped war-separated families reunite and re-settle.  It was a one-of-a-kind experience of enlightenment and transformation.  The joy that comes from seeing families re-unite after months of being worlds away has truly been one of life’s most rewarding experiences and it has become a deep passion in my heart ever since.

After a few years of living in Durham, I came across CWS and their wonderful Immigration Legal Services team.  While trying to figure out how I could best help out, Immigration Services Coordinator Rebecca Schaeffer and Immigration Counselor Kelly Chauvin introduced me to their upcoming plans to begin hosting citizenship classes for current immigrants wishing to become American citizens.  As a recently naturalized U.S. citizen myself, the idea of developing a program that would not only create a learning environment, but would also establish a network of support throughout the citizenship process, was something that I knew I had to be a part of.

It didn’t take us long for us to gather all the essential materials that we needed, to reach out to students, and pilot our very first citizenship class.  We’ve had great support from the CWS Greensboro office – where they’ve hosted citizenship classes for the past three years, based on a curriculum developed by the CWS national office and funding through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  CWS Durham has a robust citizenship tutoring program but has not been able to offer citizenship classes on a large scale because of funding constraints, so the program must rely on volunteer support.  For this first semester, we have been lucky enough to develop a team of volunteers who are just as passionate about teaching citizenship classes as I am.

Citizenship class at CWS Durham Photo: Courtesy CWS Durham

Citizenship class at CWS Durham Photo: Courtesy CWS Durham

We started our very first citizenship class here in Durham in October, with a group of students who continue to impress us with their great work and commitment each and every day.  It has been very enriching to see our students take on learning the overwhelming amounts of U.S. History, Civics, and English language writing and reading exercises, despite their hectic work schedules and other language and cultural barriers. Although all are from different backgrounds, it’s impressive to see how much our students have helped each other grow as a team and as future U.S. citizens.  Seeing our students work hard gives me even more encouragement to do my job as well as I can, and be able to help them as best as I can.

The class has been a huge success so far, and I look forward to partnering with CWS to grow its Citizenship Education Program in coming semesters!  Please contact CWS Immigration Services Coordinator Rebecca Schaeffer at (919) 641-1765 or RSchaeffer@cwsglobal.org if you’re interested in volunteering to help out with citizenship classes for next semester.

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