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Equal Opportunity for Refugees

A new immigrant arrives in the U.S. She is eager to learn English and uses her cell phone to search for adult education opportunities. She finds Literacy for Life and uses a translation app to send an email requesting more information. Within days, she has enrolled and is attending online English classes. She has taken an essential step towards achieving success in life and work here in the United States.

Or, perhaps, she does not have Internet access. She does not own a cell phone, tablet, or computer. She does not know how to search the Internet, use a translation app, send an email, or join an online meeting. Maybe she does not even read and write in her native language. Technology eliminates many barriers, and distance learning can be extraordinarily powerful. Since 2020, Literacy for Life's online programming has proven to be both popular and effective. However, as we see in the example above, technology also raises unique challenges related to equity and access. This year, Literacy for Life will strive to bridge the digital divide for refugees through its newest project, Transforming Immigrant Digital Equity (TIDE).

TIDE is a project of World Education, Inc. World Education is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving people's lives around the world through education and social and economic development programs. Literacy for Life is one of only three TIDE pilot sites nationwide taking on the challenge to "build a local ecosystem of partners and stakeholders to ensure tech-enabled ESOL learning opportunties and digial equity for immigrants and refugees in their communities." For its TIDE project, Literacy for Life is partnering with Commonwealth Catholic Charities (CCC) in Newport News. Through this partnership with World Education and CCC, Literacy for Life seeks to ensure that refugees resettling in the Peninsula area have access to Internet service, devices, and digital literacy skills so that they can benefit from Literacy for Life's existing services. The first hurdle that LFL's project will address is Internet access. LFL staff are researching opportunities for residents to obtain free or affordable wifi and devices. Staff will assist individual refugees to apply for the assistance that will be most appropriate for their situation.

Internet access and a device, however, are of little value if the individual lacks the digital literacy skills to take advantage of them. The refugees served by CCC vary widely in their educational backgrounds and English skills. Some are poised to begin taking immediate advantage of LFL's existing slate of virtual services. Others will require significant skill development before they can begin taking advantage of their connectivity. LFL will recruit and train tutors to meet one-on-one or in small groups with these learners in order to teach them to use their devices. Tutors will also help their learners to develop the basic English language skills they need to participate in classes or take advantage of other LFL services. TIDE is a pilot project. During the process of serving the refugee clientele of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, LFL will develop networks and partnerships, untangle logistics, and develop curricula and teaching strategies so that the TIDE model can be scaled to serve additional underserved immigrant populations. With Internet connectivity, digital literacy skills, English language skills, and access to LFL's diversity of services, exponential numbers of immigrants in the Peninsula region will be positioned to pursue their goals, contribute their talents to the community, and achieve their dreams.

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