Skills-Building in a Community Context
It's one thing to want to offer basic computer skills to the unemployed or underemployed to overcome a major potential barrier to finding a job in an already brutal market. It's quite another to think through all the things that need to happen to make such a program effective.
For instance, what if your target participants don't have computers? Or what if you have kids but can't afford day care when you're taking classes.
These are among the hurdles that the Somalia American Community Association overcame with The Mobile Family Learning Cener. With the help of a Takoma Foundation grant, the Center provided basic typing and computer literacy classes to a group of Takoma Park residents.
First, SACA was able to make the classes attendable by offering simultaneous tutoring for school-age children. A total of 29 pupils received assistance with their homework from student volunteers from the University of Maryland and American University. Providing a productive environment for their children saved the cost of daycare for participants, and opened up other opportunities on its own.
Next, SACA secured 19 laptops for the participants in the program - most of whom were East African immigrants who are stay-at-home mothers - who did not have computers at home. The laptops remained on loan for a minumum of six months. Keeping the program going was not necessarily smooth sailing. Even with childcare, houeshold obligations kept many of the participants from arriving to class on time or forced them to miss sessions altogether. In addition, English proficiency proved a challenge.
Yet in the end, 11 of the participants received certificates in Microsoft Word proficiency, and all of the adult students advanced measurably in their skills. The side benefits of the tutoring program were significant as well. Two participants received a full scholarship each for 6th-12th grade at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Potomac and Holton Arms School in Bethesda.
To learn more or support the work of the Somali American Community Association, contact:
Ahmed Elmi, MPH, CHES