Free Literacy Program Helps Migrants
The students at Manos de Cristo, an Austin-based non-profit, don’t have much in common with most Texas children who started school this week. For one, they’re not kids.
Rosa Garcia, for instance, is 55. She is from Hidalgo in Central Mexico. Rosa’s father died when she was an infant. Her mother tried to make ends meet for Rosa and her 13 siblings, but everyone needed to pitch in. Rosa remembers her siblings were still young when they picked up jobs. No one went to school. She never learned to read or write. At 15, she got married.
“You may not believe this,” Garcia said, “but it’s the saddest feeling when your grandchildren bring a storybook and ask you to read it for them and you have to admit you don’t know how.”
Rosa Garcia comes to Manos de Cristo twice a week. She is learning to put syllables together and giggles as she sounds out one of her first words – “murciélago” – bat.
Manos de Cristo is one of a variety of groups that promote literacy among Spanish speakers in Central Texas. There’s even a group at the Bastrop Correctional Facility. All the groups are led by a program from the Mexican Consulate called Plazas Comunitarias.
“The main goal of these plazas is to grant Mexican migrants access to basic education,” said Rodrigo Alcocer with the Consulate. “But, this program is also extended to the Hispanic community because the Mexican certification is worldwide valid – this is the legal framework of many international treaties.”
The classes are free. Students can get their elementary and middle school certificates. Once they’re done, it’s relatively easy for them to get their GED.
Manuel Garcia is also a student at Manos de Cristo. The 38-year-old construction worker is on leave due to a work accident that paralyzed his right hand. As a child, he learned his ABCs from a teacher who came to his farming village in Mexico. Last semester, Manuel decided to make the most out of his recovery time by sharpening his literacy skills.
“I’m now able to read the notes my kids bring from school,” Manuel Garcia said. “I finally understand what they say.”
Obtaining a certificate from Plazas Comunitarias may take years, so the attrition rate is high. But the hope is that students who finish the program could obtain college degrees in their home countries or, depending on their immigration status, here in the U.S.