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‘I had a good story to tell’: graduate of Stella's Circle program in St. John's tells peers what lies ahead

Josiane Umunyurwa (left), a refugee from The Congo graduated from the Adult Basic Education (ABE) Level I program at Stella’s Circle on Tuesday. She and a host of her fellow graduates were treated to a guest speaker and former graduate of the same program — Linda Richards — who credited the program with helping her get her life back on track.
Josiane Umunyurwa (left), a refugee from The Congo graduated from the Adult Basic Education (ABE) Level I program at Stella’s Circle on Tuesday. She and a host of her fellow graduates were treated to a guest speaker and former graduate of the same program — Linda Richards — who credited the program with helping her get her life back on track. - Sam McNeish

Adult Basic Education (ABE) Level I program celebrates Class of 2018

Smiling faces and a sense of accomplish was prevalent at Stella’s Circle on Tuesday afternoon.

A host of students were celebrating their graduation from the organizations Adult Basic Education (ABE) Level I program.

The students, joined by instructors, family and friends, celebrated their educational achievements and each spent a moment telling those gathered what the program has meant to them.

One of those students, Josiane Umunyurwa, 23, originally from The Congo, has been in St. John’s now for just over a year. Prior to arriving here, she spent eight years in a refugee camp in Kenya, leaving her native soil as a 14-year-old.

Some education was available, but not a priority for her during those eight years despite the fact she wanted to go to school and make a better like for herself.

When she arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador she enrolled in language school at the Centre for New Canadians and completed her Level 6 studies. Then she enrolled in the Stella’s Circle Adult Basic Education Level I program which helps adults like Umunyurwa complete their schooling.

“Now that I have completed my Level I (a Grade 7 education level), I am moving on to Level II. I have applied to the Murphy Centre for that,” Umunyurwa said.
“I want to go on to do medical research and sciences and perhaps to university as well,’’ she added.

Getting through the next two phases of her education, depending on what she wants to do, will take approximately 18-30 months.

“When I moved here from my country, I was only at a Grade 4 level and now I have achieved Level 6,’’ she said.
“I wasn’t moving forward, but I didn’t give up. My English wasn’t very good, but I worked at it. I still don’t think it is very good, but I am working on it.”

Umunyurwa and her family — that includes her mother, father, brother and sister — applied for refugee status and just over a year ago was granted those rights and they moved half way around the globe to this province.

She said her time at Stella’s Circle has been great. In addition to learning English, she gained the ability to communicate with people better.

“We also learned how to work as a team, how to help each other,’’ she said.

Overcoming obstacles

In addition to the graduates of the ABE program, the event featured a guest speaker, someone who has direct ties to Stella’s Circle.

Linda Richards was a graduate of the same program just four short years ago. She came back to tell the graduates about her success after leaving the program which included finishing her Level II and III and will graduate from that program at the Discovery Centre next week.

“I had a good story to tell. I didn’t give up despite hard times,’’ she told the graduates on Tuesday.
“I have gone through it and have come back to tell you how to get through it,’’ she added.

Included in that recent history was dealing with cancer. Richards was diagnosed with cervical and ovarian cancer in 2014 and was forced to take two six-month sabbaticals from her educational process, the second one to have surgery to remove the cancer. Today she is cancer free and ready to graduate with her Grade 12 equivalency.

“I went through a lot, but I got through it. If you are thinking about going back to school, go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” Richards said.

“This spring, I finished the last of my courses and am graduating with my Grade 12 diploma. I am on Cloud 9! I am happy that I have made it  through.”

Now that she can read and write at the best level she has ever had, she hopes to return to home care or housekeeping citing the improvements as preparing her to do the reports correctly this time around.
“I can’t predict the future, but I feel positive about my life.”

She said she always had trouble in school as a child, especially reading. After finishing Grade 11, a feat she said was not earned at that time as she was just pushed through to get her out of school, she went into home care.

But not being able to read or write well created issues for her when it came to writing reports and that led to her being laid off.

“I decided then it was time to go back to school. I enrolled in the ABE Level I program at Stella’s Circle. I was scared at first because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said.

Her skills improved in both areas and she also discovered she had very good math skills. In addition to that, she was able to make some great friends through the program and developed strong allies and supports from within which helped propel her to the goals she set for herself.

“One of my proudest moments was when I was nominated for the Council of the Federation Literacy Award in 2014. My teacher Jessica (Lee-Middleman), helped me to complete the application. Then I learned that I had won! It was fantastic to see that my hard work was being recognized ,’’ she said.

Richards also performs in the Stella’s Circle Inclusion Choir. The emphasis is on the joy and fun of singing, there are no tryouts, and the inclusion philosophy for the choir is a place of acceptance and an opportunity to be a part of something bigger; increases social connections for people and can be a great first step to engaging in other community activities.

samuel.mcneish@thetelegram.com

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