By Evelyn Schultz | Lex18
Inside a conference room sit 12 employees who collectively speak many languages fluently, including French, Lingala, Swahili, and Portuguese.
Now, they’re adding English to that list through new language classes offered as a partnership with Bluegrass Community and Technical College. The classes, which started in February, run for an hour each week until May, and are funded through a grant from the Kentucky Workforce Development Agency.
“For them to come to a new country and start over, they really have to have confidence and security the language they’re being spoken is understood,” said Jeanne Devers, a Workforce Development Project Manager at BCTC who helped start this program at Galls.
This group of employees is refugees, many of them from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, like Feza Mufaume. She arrived in the United States half a decade ago, after spending time in a refugee camp in Zimbabwe.
“When I speak English, it cannot be like when I speak French,” she told us. “They are a bit different. And my accent is not like it is in America.”
Soon after arriving in Lexington, Mufaume found a job at Galls. She also met dozens of other employees at the company who came to the U.S. to escape violence in their home countries.
Useni Asukulu is Congolese, too. He’s learning English so he can better communicate with his children and others in the community.
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“When we go to an appointment, it means we can speak to doctor, or to get food stamps,” he said.
There are more than 1,200 Congolese refugees who call Lexington home. They’re the largest group to be resettled in the Bluegrass so far. In fact, Swahili is now the third most spoken language in the city.
But learning English can also provide them with connection and a boost of confidence.
Confidence: a word we heard over and over again during our time at Galls headquarters.
“I see it when I’m downstairs in the distribution center,” CEO Mike Fadden told us. “People get more confident talking. And they’ll stop me now, where they didn’t used to before.”
Fadden and other Galls leaders say there’s growing interest in the language courses. More than 40 people joined a waiting list when they announced the classes. That’s why Galls and BCTC are offering three more English courses this year and they hope to eventually include family members.
Mufaume can’t wait.
“My dream, I need to help people, to serve people,” she said. “To translate English, to train people at their job at Galls.”
And when she’s able to communicate with other employees while she sews downstairs?
“It makes us so proud,” she said.
The sound of confidence, loud and clear.