English lessons are among the perks for some refugees

Mar 4, 2019

Making Buffalo Home is a WNED|WBFO multi-year project looking at the impact immigrants and refugees are having in our community. As WBFO's Chris Caya reports, a local company is not only employing refugees, it's also helping them learn English.


Refugees working at Triad are learning English after hours by teacher Anna Porter.
Credit Lynne Bader

Since its founding in 2010, Triad Recycling in Tonawanda has seen rapid growth. 

"We bring in construction material here from job sites and we also bring in the material from factories that want to be zero landfill," said Triad president Chris Guard.

Guard says workers pick through the material by hand, pulling out wood, plastic, metals, concrete, bricks and drywall.

There is shelter from the elements, but material is moving in and out all day. Guard says it's cold in the winter and hot in the summer.

"This isn't real glamorous work so it's not a desirable job for most people." 

In 2012, Guard contacted Journey's End and started hiring refugees.
 
"These guys come in, they appreciate the job, and we've had really good luck with them. So we started off with four the first year," he explained.

Triad now employs 17 refugess from six different countries.

Workers at Triad Recycling sort through construction debris for cardboard that can be recycled.
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

Up in his office overlooking the company's 22-acre site on River Road, Guard said it can be frustrating trying to communicate with workers who speak limited English, especially because safety is his most important goal.

"Making them understand that, coming from countries where safety is sketchy or a lower priority, sometimes is a big task to explain to them that they shouldn't be stepping in front of a piece of equipment to pick up a piece of wood. They think they have to do that to protect their job sometimes when they first get here," Guard said.    

Guard recently hired Journey's End Refugee Services to teach English, after work, to more than a dozen Triad employees.  

"Amisi can you give me an example of a verb?"

"Play."

"Okay, play. Good. Can you give me another example? What's the second one you wrote down?"

"Eat."

"Eat. Good. Rezene, can you give me one?" "

"Go. Run."

Teacher Anna Porter says the biggest challenge is teaching people at different levels of English proficiency. She doesn't speak any of the workers' native languages.

Triad president Chris Guard began hiring refugees in 2012.
Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News

"Luckily, it forces all the students to use English. If they don't have the correct grammar, that's okay. I want them to feel comfortable communicating in English to get their point across and to be able to understand Americans when they're speaking to them. That's learning how to communicate. And I think not knowing their language is actually a little bit helpful," Porter said. 

Journey's End Education director Jaqueline Ashby says over the years, the organization has taught English to thousands of refugees.

"Many of them were in the process of doing their own education in their native countries when they had to flee. So they're extremely dedicated when they're afforded the opportunity to go back to school," Ashby said.    

Emmanuel Amnobe, 25, came to the United States in 2016 and has been with Triad two years. Amnobe says he likes his job and he is happy the class is offered.

"It's good because when you want to go take test for citizen, you can pass because you understand. So I like this system, and I pray for that.  I beg to them, 'do not stop this one.' Because it's a good system. I like it."