Refugees of all ages learn English at Fort McCoy

FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WKBT) — Fort McCoy offers more than just shelter for its Afghan guests. Over on the base, refugees are learning more than just their ABCs. Many of the guests hold impressive resumes, but now they have to learn it in English.

It can be hard to start from scratch, but that’s what many Afghan refugees had to do.

“In Afghanistan, the Taliban attacked us while you are going to U.S.A.,” said Mohammad Ahmadi. Because of that, we lost everything. My clothes, my shoes, everything. I lost in Afghanistan.”

Fort McCoy offered them a chance to begin again and learn a new way of life.

Painda Mohammad Mashal, a refugee who teaches English at the base, said, “I lived in Kabul — I was a university teacher and I taught law there. And at the same time, I was an English teacher at an institute.”

At Fort McCoy, Mashal still teaches English, but under different circumstances.

Many older women finding refuge on the base didn’t even know their own language, let alone English, he said.

“One woman — she was like 55 —  she learned all the words for like, foodstuffs,” Mashal said.

He’s also teaching students of all ages who find joy in language.

“Present perfect tense — I like those tenses. I don’t know, that present perfect tense I have learned, and I like the tense a lot,” Ahmadi said.

Understanding the language and learning about culture, too.

“How to respect with each other, how to help others. We appreciate from U.S. people — we’ve learned a lot of things from U.S. people,” Ahmadi said.

Mashal hopes this sets his students up for a bright future.

“I’m so happy to help them even to learn how to converse. So I hope for a better future for them,” Mashal said.

Ahmadi and Hasib Ullah Afghanzada, who was also present for the interview, hope to seek higher education when they leave Fort McCoy. Mashal hopes to continue working as a teacher in America.

Fort McCoy offers 30 English classes for children and adults at multiple levels.

Many adult students at Fort McCoy earned advanced degrees in Afghanistan and are learning English to finish their studies in the United States.

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