The International Learning Center (ILC) celebrated its annual Potluck Holiday Party on December 22 at its location on Wisconsin Avenue within the Central United Methodist Church.

International culture and foreign food was on display at the free event, with festive performances by students enrolled in the ILC program to entertain and express thanks for their community support.

“We at the International Learning Center are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work amongst Milwaukee’s refugee community,” said Cynthia Zarazua, Instructional Supervisor at ILC. “Our parent organization, Neighborhood House of Milwaukee, allows us to give back in essential life-sustaining ways, just as those who provided our forbears the same assistance.”

At a time when the international refugee crisis around the world has inspired an elevated sense of fear, the ILC’s effort was a much needed act of generosity. The goal of the holiday party was to welcome refugees and immigrants to the area. Just as the city’s ancestors arrived from foreign lands and contributed to the foundation of Milwaukee, this most recent wave follows in their shoes with the ability to enrich the local community.

Wisconsin has roughly 75,000 refugees living across the state, and the ILC organizes a variety of activities designed at honoring diversity and promoting understanding. The program serves refugees with instruction in English, math, computers, and citizenship. While the majority of current students are from Burma, many who have low or no literacy skills, ILC serves refugees from Africa, Southeast Asia, and around the world.

The ILC offers individuals forced to flee the tragedies of their homeland with opportunities to develop intellectual, social, and life skills in a secure, nurturing environment. It has provided English as a Second Language instruction to over 5,000 adult refugees in the Milwaukee area since 1981.

“My name is Johnny San. I’m from Myanmar (Burma). I came to the United States on March 7, 2010. I started working at a hotel for two years, and then I moved to Cargill Meat Company. I liked working with friends and we made good pay. But in June 2014, Cargill Company closed. We were so sad. Now we are going to ILC, and learning some computer, Math, and ESL. This is important for me. I’m so happy. One year ago I didn’t know who to use nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, and also we didn’t know about grammar. One year ago I didn’t know how to talk and how to respect people. I did not write very well, or know how to apply for a job properly. I didn’t know about American culture or how to use the computer. One year later, I can type on a computer to e-mail, I know about driving and traffic laws, learned about fishing and hunting laws, and can fix my car.”

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Lee Matz