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Honors College senior helps start tutoring program at local education center

September 15, 2014

As someone who can speak three languages – Spanish, Arabic and English – Elaria Essak understands the importance of communication.

That’s one of the reasons the 22-year-old WSU senior, along with others, helped start an English language program at the Centro de San José tutoring facility in southwest Detroit.

Every Wednesday morning for the past year, Essak and other Wayne State students volunteered to help local residents learn English. The majority of those were single mothers, she said.

“I thought this was a great opportunity to empower the immigrant community,” Essak said. “I think everybody has the right to be able to manage his or her life and have personal autonomy.”

She credits Sister Marie Benzing, director of Centro de San José and a WSU student, with facilitating the program and giving space for the classes. Although Sister Marie is not in a degree program at Wayne State, she takes university courses to learn Spanish.

Essak’s job is to mobilize and coordinate her fellow Warriors and schedule their tutoring visits. During this past school year, she also served as president of WSU’s El Club Hispano. In addition, the Spanish department recognized Essak and her peers for their outstanding community service.

“These people wanted to learn English so they can get jobs, communicate with their kids’ teachers, talk with medical professionals, or go to the store and buy groceries,” she said. “For those reasons, it was very important for us to start this program.”

Having grown up with immigrant parents from Egypt, Essak said it’s important to recognize how vulnerable immigrants can sometimes be due to the language barriers. “Immigrants sometimes feel like little children because of their language impairment,” she said. “If they spoke our language, society would understand that they’re as intellectual and capable as native speakers.”

When not in class or teaching English, Essak works as a translator at an immigration law firm. After graduation, with two degrees in political science and Spanish, she hopes to attend law school. And, of course, she continues to volunteer at Centro de San José.

“Even if you just find a small opportunity to get involved, take it,” Essak said. “I don’t think there’s any excuse for us not to serve our community. Now that we’re on our own, it’s our time to give back.”

For more information about the center and volunteer opportunites, click here.