IRWP Globe Logo IRWP Logo
IRWP Globe Logo Our Students Our Teachers About Us Stories Did You Know? How Can I Help? Contact Us

HowToHelp Volunteer
Join Our Email List


While every refugee's story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.

~ Antonio Guterres
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

Our Teachers

Male Teachers Share Their Stories

We recently talked with Andy and Adam who both teach men in the program about their experiences with their students.

Andy Eggleston and Hussein studying Andy and Hussein have worked together for one year, during which time Hussein has increased his ability to use English in everyday life and become more independent:

How would you characterize your relationship with your student?

Our relationship is more like a friendship.  We spend approximately fifteen minutes of every class talking about Hussein’s life, his wife and children, and just catching up.  While at first it was a little awkward, I now know his family very well.  It is really a relationship of equals, of friends – not of a teacher with “power” over a student.  I have enjoyed learning about his background and values.  Hussein is a very interesting man with a fascinating background.

What changes have you seen in your student in the time you worked with him?

In the time I have worked with Hussein, he has certainly gained confidence speaking English.  Even if he makes grammatical errors, he is enthusiastic about communicating with me.  He is now able to go shopping on his own.  Because of his growing confidence, he is seeking out more opportunities for classes to take and would like to become able to ‘graduate’ to group classes with his wife, who is also an IRWP student.  Hussein continues to set new goals and hopes to study for his driver’s permit.

Do you think male students face any specific challenges or barriers to learning English?

Hussein may be a special case because of his age; he is retired and out of the work force.  He is more isolated because he is not working and is home much of the time, which is probably similar to women in the program.  He does not seem to have the same types of friendships as his wife.  In general I would say that Hussein, and other male students probably, do not want to appear vulnerable.  It can be embarrassing to rely on children for help with daily life.  Hussein used to own a very successful restaurant, so he is in a very different situation now.  When we started studying, I got the sense that Hussein wanted to learn English, but needed help seeing how to build with each accomplishment to become more independent.  Because he did rely on his family for help translating, and he was not entering the work force, I could help him set goals for studying.  Now he is really doing well and is enthusiastic to learn more.

What have you learned from being a teacher?  Have you learned something specific from your student?   

I have really learned to meet people from other cultures without judgment.  I think we sometimes have stereotypical images of men from the Middle East, but Hussein is such a kind, gentle man and I have enjoyed seeing how he speaks of, and interacts with, his family.  Working with Hussein has really allowed me to debunk stereotypes.  Moreover, the experience has really opened my mind to learning about different cultures.  



Adam Adam and Gulam have work together for nine months, during which time Adam has seen Gulam grow more confident in speaking English and make strides towards big goals:

How would you characterize your relationship with your student?

It’s really good - we are friends, we get to hang out and talk to each other about things in our lives, and help one another. 

What changes have you seen in your student in the time you worked with him?

His English has definitely gotten better; he is more comfortable and confident in using it in speaking.  He is limited in his opportunities to use it with others outside of his home, so having these classes is good for him.  He is good about asking me words he doesn’t know so he can learn them.  I am continually impressed by Gulam’s questions about language usage.

Gulam is currently alone in the U.S. and is in the process of bringing his wife and children from Pakistan to the U.S.  The family visa process has come further, so he feels it’s more a reality and he asks questions about this.  All the documents are in now, and before that was a frustration.  Now everything is in order and they are just waiting.  He recently asked if it would be possible for him to go to college and take classes, so that is another aspiration that he is working towards.

Right now, Gulam really wants to get a car.  He wants to be able to go out and go to the park to walk around or get some human interaction.  He has a license, but does not know how to look for a car he can afford and how much car insurance and taxes would be annually.  We have been working together and in touch with community resources to answer these questions and give him information on how he can make this happen.

Do you think male students face any specific challenges or barriers to learning English?

(Gulam has physical health issues from being shot while in the military in Afghanistan.  He got a degree in economics before coming to the U.S. and his long-term goal is to be able to do work like this here, especially since he is not able to do more physical work.)

Cultural expectations for males are big, especially if his family comes over - I think he might feel a little self-conscious about his current state of affairs and his inability to work now.  But instead of that being a barrier, this is a huge motivating factor.  This is just how he feels as a human, but there is that “male provider” narrative he is working with.

What have you learned from being a teacher?  Have you learned something specific from your student?   

I’ve learned a few language skills of my own including some Pashtu and Russian.  I’ve learned a lot about regional things, food, Afghanistan and Moscow (where Gulam has lived) and his experience in the military.  Just about his life and his own individual experiences, which can give you a greater appreciation for the things in your life and the things in your life you thought were negatives, but really are not.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about teaching in the program?   

I like it - it’s nice to meet other people from other people from other parts of the world that you wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to meet otherwise.  You get to appreciate that though we have cultural differences; people everywhere are really the same.


Making House Calls

The mission of Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program (IRWP) is to increase the independence and reduce the isolation of immigrant and refugee women by Sister Rosel and Hasateaching them basic English and practical living skills at no cost in the security of their own homes. Since 1995, IRWP has helped women who have arrived in St. Louis, Missouri from other countries to make a new life in the United States.


“These women come from very dangerous situations in their home countries,” says Sister Rosel. "We teach them in their homes because they are already comfortable in their surroundings. Also, they save the time and money of getting a babysitter and finding transportation. I have the opportunity to get to know their family members. I use their names and the things in the house as part of the lessons. We meet two times a week and we usually work with them for three to four years. I make it a point to learn some phrases in their native tongue. They become the teacher and I am the student, resulting in higher self-confidence for them."


“The women I have taught the past three years have been in their 30s and 40s. They have come from Ethiopia, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The woman from Ethiopia is now a U.S. citizen. Our foundress Blessed Theresa reached out to women and children who are poor through education. As School Sisters, our gift of internationality prepares us to do this kind of work while respecting and honoring the various cultures and languages of the people we serve.” Even with 105 volunteer teachers logging nearly 5,000 hours of service, IRWP has a waiting list.Sister Rosel and Hasa 2

Are you interested in making a house call? 

To learn more about the ministries of School Sisters of Notre Dame, please visit

Photo credit:  Linda Behrens, School Sisters of Notre Dame, Community Engagement Staff




It was the day before my birthday, and I had a class scheduled as usual.  I arrived at my student’s (To Toe’s) house, and found she had not only baked a cake for me, but it was decorated with my name, and had candles with my age!  She had her whole family gathered around, and they all sang happy birthday to me.  I could not believe how thoughtful and sweet they were to remember me in such a special way!  To Toe told me that I was the 6th member of her family.  I am blessed to know her!

                                                            Lana, Volunteer



Learning for all of us comes in leaps and bounds. Recently my student, who has never attended school, called me on the phone to say she needed to change our meeting time. Since she has children who usually do her phoning, this was a bold step. Yesterday she read aloud Brown Bear (a children's book) with inflection and laughter in her voice—something that I do not experience when I hear the family speak Kurdish to each other. It was more than imitation of my reading style; she was understanding the cadence of questions and responses in English. I know that the next "hearers" of this children's story—her grandchildren—will be cuddling in her lap.  Her "thank you very much" is received appreciatively.

                                                                                                           Colleen R., Volunteer

Five years ago when I came here, I lost everything I owned. And I had ears, but could not hear; eyes but could not see; mouth but could not speak. I could not understand anything. Now after working with teachers, I can understand. I work hard at my job, own a house, and children are doing good in school. I am happy. Next I want to be a citizen. American people have been so nice to me…I want to be American too.

                                                                                                           B.M., Student from Afghanistan

Sister Charleen, A TeacherLove of Teaching Inspires Volunteer
Sr. Charleen Barta, SSND, a former elementary school teacher and administrator, joined the Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program because she loved teaching, especially teaching people who needed special help. “I saw a need for women to be educated and also learn the practical skills of living in America,” she explains. Since she became a teacher in February 1999, she has worked with over 40 women. Her students have come from many places, including Bosnia, Mexico, Albania, and Vietnam. She currently works with four students a week.

Sr. Charleen finds many rewards in having a hand in helping her students advance. She is thrilled to see students become independent in their daily lives and to share the happiness of the students who are able to become U.S. citizens. “I feel like I’m following the School Sisters’ charism, which is to serve women, the poor, and youth,” she says. “For me, this work is a ministry, not a job. We’re truly ministering to women and also their families.”

Our Special Student
IRWP received a special request for a teacher. B.W., a 67 year old woman from Ethiopia, spoke English but was due to take her citizenship test in less than two months. She was blind and could not study on her own. Within days of the referral a new teacher, Linda called to volunteer. Linda taught grade school and was eager to work with an adult woman. They lived less than two miles apart. 

For seven weeks they worked together on history, civics, and the constitution. So B.W. could study between classes, Linda made cassette tapes covering material that B.W. could listen to for homework. When B.W. called after her test, she proudly announced that she had passed her test. “Tonight I can finally sleep.”

bbb logo
Chain of Women