Category Archives: ESL

Sewing with a Purpose


sewing video

Our Women’s Sewing Class offers a safe space for women to learn English, foster community, and develop skills. Watch stories of mutual transformation from women in the class in this video.

One of the main challenges that refugee women face when they arrive in America is learning a new language.  That task becomes exponentially harder if they are pre-literate and don’t know how to read and write in their native language. As a result, many of these women find it incredibly difficult to learn English and venture out into their new surroundings, making them one of our most vulnerable and isolated populations.

World Relief has partnered with Hillside Church and local volunteers to provide a dedicated sewing and childcare space and to create an 8-week basic sewing and vocational English language class. The sewing class not only provides these women with marketable skills, but it’s also a space for them to find community and practice relevant English skills.


The first class was a great success. Eight participants met with our volunteer teachers to create weekly projects ranging from oven mitts to small purses. The women were also given the opportunity to create two baby blankets for future refugee families in need. As a result of the class, two women were hired by local companies. Future classes have become so popular, there is now a waiting list to enroll.

Sewing Monica.jpg

“It was very good for me. It is more than sewing I learn. I make friends and learn many things, make beautiful things.” – Monica

“One of the main things that will stick with me is how women are women where ever they are from. Our life circumstances are vastly different but we have the same concerns – wanting to create a loving home for our families, wanting to provide for our kids, and the joy in being in a safe community, sharing with like-minded women.”  -Debra Voelker, Sewing Class Volunteer


Sewing Volunteer

Jeanine and Mursal

How Can You Get Involved?

In light of the inaugural class’ success, World Relief plans to offer this class again   beginning on May 2nd. Our goal is to further develop and improve the curriculum to best meet the needs of the participants.

Click Here to learn how to Volunteer in the class.

We want to upgrade to new sewing machines for the class. New machines will enhance the students’ learning experience and allow them to practice on a wider variety of materials.

Costs for the next class will include:

  • $650 per student for materials and transportation
  • $500 per sewing machine
  • $1,250 for childcare for all the moms in the class

Donate to empower refugees.

Their dreams

The following is a reflection by Calilee, a smart and spunky AmeriCorps member who teaches English to newcomers at World Relief and cares deeply for the success of her refugee students and friends. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., the English classes had a writing activity in which they interpreted their own “I have a dream…” statements. 

I stood in front of my English students getting goosebumps up and down my arms as I read the speech that Martin Luther King Jr. gave on August 28, 1963. “I have a dream” I read aloud, “that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” I am from Georgia. I have read this speech and have learned about Martin Luther King Jr. many times over the years, but the story of who this man was and the message that he brought to our country had never impacted be like it did during this particular class.

Our program participants have left their homes to find refuge for various reasons. One student explained that she came to America because her mother “has dark skin and curly hair, so people treated her badly.” I am sure there was more to the story than that, but truth was that this young, intelligent woman came to a new country so that her mother could live in a place were she wasn’t defined by her differences. We sat around a large plastic table, with our varying nationalities, speaking the only language we are all fluent in–broken English–and talked about how this was once a much larger issue that separated Americans from each other.I have a dream 6

My students were more engaged than I have ever seen them in any other writing activity. They have dreams that one day they will be able to find a stable country where they and their families will be safe. They dream that they will have a house of their own and find a job that can help sustain their families. They dream to return to school. They dream that one day they might contribute to our society and demonstrate their thankfulness for the assistance we have provided. Some even dream that one day it will be safe to return to where they fled from–they want to help the rest of the world fix what is broken.

These are our friends and our neighbors. God has called us to love them, to welcome them, and to stand beside them. These are their words: some of the structure has been lost in translation, but their dreams and ideas are evident. I hope you will take a moment to read through what they have to say.

I have a dream 3

“…to be some[one] with a kind heart and helpful to everyone”

I have a dream 2

“One day I will be 70 years old….I will be sitting in sunlight with all the grandsons around”

I have a dream 1

“Ukraine will be [a] good country where people can live and have equal rights”

I have a dream 5 I have a dream 4

I have a dream 7


A Community of Learners

Commuting up the hill from the World Relief office every Monday through Thursday, eager students attended their five-hour English class at Hillside Church.

Last summer, World Relief received a state-funded grant to hold a six-month intensive English class in addition to our regularly-scheduled classes. This pilot program was designed to increase the speed of English-level gains by providing five hours instead of three hours of class daily.Intensive 5

In early fall, gracious community partners opened up their doors to host our intensive English class, we selected an energetic instructor to teach the class, we invited a variety of English level 1 and 2 students to participate in this unique opportunity, and volunteers came to practice English and build relationships with our students.

As weeks and months passed, the class blossomed from a group of individual students from different language backgrounds to a community of learners who constantly challenged, encouraged, and supported each other.Intensive 6

In March the pilot came to an end. The students transitioned back to regular, three-hour English classes at World Relief and said goodbye to the community they had built over six months of daily, intensive study together.

As funding allows, we hope to be able to offer a similar model in the future. In the meantime, we get to celebrate all English-language levels gains from this intensive English class and our regular English classes.Intensive 4

Want to be a part of this community? We are always looking for volunteers in our ESL classes to practice English and build relationships with our newly-arrived refugee friends!  Visit to learn how you can get involved in empowering the lives of refugees here Washington.


English as a Second Life

The following is a reflection of Michael, who participated in a 9 month program through The Union Gospel Mission’s Serve Seattle program as a classroom assistant at World Relief.ESL Class 007

When I first started at World Relief it was very daunting to have so many people who spoke very little English and spoke languages that I knew very little about.  I came into this internship thinking that I would be helping all these refugees learn English and other life and job skills.  But I was surprised when I realized that I was also learning a lot from these people.ESL Details 007

It has been amazing to get to see the progress that they have made in their English speaking and reading skills.  To a native English speaker it may not seem like much, but I know that going from learning letters and numbers and basic words to being able to speak and write complete sentences in English is a huge accomplishment.  Some of my favorite memories have been taking the students on bus trips to Goodwill.  Being able to interact with them outside of the classroom has been very impactful for me. Just being able to talk with them and helping them on their English skills makes me proud of them.ESL Details 001

The most rewarding aspect has really been the relationships that I have developed with both the students and the staff here. Arriving at the classroom each day that I am here, I am always greeted by several of the students, all who know me by name now.  Now arriving at the end of my time here, and the start of a new adventure I can look back and say that helping people from so many different countries and cultures learn English (among so many other things) has been an experience that I will never forget.

Michael is just one of many people that have invested time into building relationships with ESL students at our on-site classes in Kent, WA. If you would like to volunteer as a tutor or class assistant, we would be glad to have you join the team! For more information, visit or email 

Each year, in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we ask our ESL students to share their “I have a dream” speech with us. Here are a few excerpts from what they said:

I have a dream…of living with my family. I have a dream to visit other states. I have a dream to get a good job. I have a dream to read and write English.

I have a dream…for my family in Iraq to come to America. I have a dream to go to Highline Community College every day. I have a dream for my children and husband to be healthy and happy. I have a dream to have a house in America. I have a dream class in World Relief. I have a dream to read and write English. I have a dream to see my mom and to get a job for me in America.

I have a dream…that one day I will be graduated and be a good citizen and live peacefully with my family.


Photo by Amanda Wingers

I have a dream…one day I will be a doctor in this country. I have a dream that my son will be a captain (pilot) for American Airlines. I have a dream that one day my son will be a candidate for this state of WA.

I have a dream…I want to study English. Learning the English language is very important for me. My dream is to read books. If I can read, I will learn American culture. By studying languages there are open doors to world cultures. I have a dream. I want to learn English, read English, and write English.

I have a dream…It is a dream to have a house. Not that big, but a small house to contain me and my family.


Photo by Amanda Wingers

I have a dream…It is a dream to find a good job so that I can help my family. I have a dream that one day peace will find his way to my country.

I have a dream…for my family to come to the USA.


Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking. National Archives. 08/28/1963 ARC Identifier 542069 / Local Identifier 306-SSM-4D(107)16.

At World Relief Seattle, we envision refugees becoming vibrant participants in our community. Our dream is to fully equip new-Americans to face the many hurdles along the path to self-sufficiency. We have a dream that one day our staff will all be laid off and out of work because the refugee resettlement program will no longer be necessary – that all people can live at home in peace. 

Share your dream with us in the comments, and be sure to check out our Facebook page to see photos from our MLK Day community service project.

Farzaneh: We are learning together.

I walked into English class one morning and was surprised to see Farzaneh leaning over a desk, explaining a worksheet to some of her classmates who had very little English skills.

Farzaneh had started working in a full-time job the week before. Usually when our clients find employment, they do not have time to continue coming to English class or they begin attending English class in the evening at a local community college.

“Farzaneh,” I asked her, “Why are you here? Has something happened with your job?”

Her job was going just fine. She was in class because not only does she want to keep studying English, she also enjoys the opportunity to learn about different cultures and languages and help more newly-arrived refugees to learn English.

Farzaneh (right) got a full-time job, but returns to English class to help others. "We are learning together", she says.

Farzaneh (right) got a full-time job, but returns to English class to help others. “We are learning together”, she says.

When she first came to the United States in 2010, Farzaneh did not speak much English at all. While she rapidly improved her English by going to the library every day and reading children’s books, her first year in America was difficult. She hated living in America and usually stayed at home.

One day, she said that she asked herself, “What are you doing? Where are your dreams?” She realized that sitting at home was not going to help her in her new life in America. So she began to take steps to get out of the house, which included getting her driver’s license and learning about places in Kent. She said that, at home, “we never learn anything. [But] outside, we can learn at least one word per day.”

Today, she’s a mom, wife, and full-time employee. She’s learning English and navigating new systems. And, as if that weren’t enough, she makes time to come and help out more newly-arrived refugees who are learning English.

When asked about her participation in class, Farzaneh says about herself and her classmates, “We are learning together.”

One-on-one and small group assistance makes a world of difference for those learning a new language—click here to learn about how you can volunteer as an ESL tutor or class assistant.

Twelve Months @ World Relief Seattle

World Relief Seattle envisions refugees and immigrants transformed economically, socially, and spiritually. The impact of our work is the result of the hard work of World Relief staff and volunteers, the generosity and prayers of local supporters, and the resilience and strength of the refugees and immigrants with whom we work.

These figures represent 12 months of life-changing activity at World Relief Seattle.  While there are a lot of numbers here, the most important number is 1. Each life transformed and each individual empowered by the community is cause for celebration.

12 Months Infographic-Final1

What is your favorite thing about America?


In the middle of class one day, one of the English classroom volunteers spontaneously said, “I want to know what the students’ favorite and least favorite things about America are.”  So I told her to pose the question to the class for a discussion.  The answers were insightful.  Most students spoke about how they love freedom in the U.S. and how they feel their families are safe here.  Some mentioned their concerns about homelessness, drugs, and alcoholism, which they didn’t expect to find in the United States.  One very sweet, shy student became animated as she explained her favorite thing: squirrels!

The response that impacted me the most came from one of older women in the class.  Her English skills were very limited, and I remember that health concerns caused her to miss class at least half of the time.  She avoided speaking in class as much as she could, but when the volunteer posed this particular question, her eyes lit up.  She eagerly offered a full sentence: “I like reading.” 

During the hustle and bustle of managing the activity, I initially thought, “Oh that’s wonderful – she likes reading English!  It’s even her favorite thing about being here.”  But, as I thought about her response later in the day, I recalled that she never learned to read or write in her first language, Nepali.  This class at World Relief was her first experience with literacy at all.  Additionally, out of all of the things she could have been grateful for as a recently arrived refugee, she immediately identified her new-found ability to read and write as most important.  Her confidence in these skills empowered her to share her voice in a situation where she would normally be silent, and I think that that is so very cool. 

English language learning is a significant challenge for many refugees arriving in the United States.  Though most have some past experience with English – however little (“hello”, “thank you”, “no problem” etc.) – students’ levels of skill vary dramatically from those who are non-literate to those who used to work as interpreters or translators.  As an instructor, I admit I found this multi-level nature of the classroom at times quite frustrating, but it also turned out to be an opportunity for getting students to interact with each other and with volunteers.  In fact, volunteers played a vital role day-to-day by focusing with smaller groups of students on activities and, often, by simply time giving them time to practice spoken English skills in a very low-pressure environment.  Students would regularly ask after their favorite volunteers on days when they weren’t around and vice versa! 

I’m grateful for the volunteer’s question that day and how it made me think twice about what a student really meant.


This story was written by Caitlin Wasley, one of our former ESL Instructors through the Americorps Literacy Program (RIP). Caitlin recently graduated from the University of Washington with an MA in Comparative Religion. She is an avid Molly Moon’s fan, and enjoys spotting Corgis in her spare time. World Relief misses you, Caitlin!