Pair Spotlight: Kit and Maama

March 30th, 2018

Maama (left) and Kit (right) have been working together for a year and a half in LCMC’s tutoring program.

As Maama settles into the tutoring room at Silver Spring Library next to her tutor, Kit, she explains that she is originally from Guinea. There, many languages are spoken among different cultures within the country. “I speak only three languages,” she first says, citing the Fula language of her mother’s culture, the Mandinka language of her father, and the Susu language, another one of Guinea’s national languages.

She speaks, however, with a recognizably French accent, and Kit reminds her that she actually knows five languages. “And French, and now English!” Kit points out, referencing Guinea’s official language since its colonization by the French for several centuries, and now, the language she is endeavoring to perfect through their lessons together.

With Maama about to graduate the Laubach curriculum, however, she is easy to understand as she relays her experiences. In addition to English making her daily life easier, Kit has a larger goal in mind. She recently obtained her Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) certificate from Montgomery College, of which she and Kit are very proud.

Maama is emphatic about how frustrating it was to not be able to work and contribute to her family and community.

“Back home, when I was young, I told one day to my dad, I want to be an advocate, a lawyer,” Maama recalls when asked why she was pursuing a nursing career. He was against it. Her father saw the way the justice system could be easily corrupted or manipulated, and did not believe that jail or prison was the best way to rehabilitate a person engaging in criminal activity anyway. “If I was a lawyer,” Maama explains, “I might have to put a person in jail, and that would not help them. My father said, ‘go work in the hospital, where you can help people.’”

It was advice Maama took to heart. She studied microbiology at the university level in Guinea, but after immigrating to the United States to join her husband, she found herself very bored during the day when her children were in school and her husband working 12 hours a day. When she told Kit of her boredom, to the point of tears, she said she was desperate to do something productive, to get a job, and felt her English was preventing her, and that all the work she had done at university in Guinea did not translate to any certifications in the United States.

“Here was this highly educated, highly skilled individual, who very much wanted to work and help people, and she’s bored to tears,” Kit laments, recalling Maama’s anguish at the time. “I think that’s why I gave her so much work in the beginning, actually. She needed the work.” Eventually Maama grew more confident in her English and Maama asked for Kit’s advice in pursuing her career goals. Kit helped Maama research all the available programs in the area.

When Maama settled on the CNA program at Montgomery College, Kit saw her once bored student suddenly spending more than 20 hours a week in both nursing and English language instruction.

Maama’s hard work paid off. After spending five days a week, hours each day, in the CNA classes at Montgomery College, as well as her tutoring lessons with Kit, Maama celebrated a big milestone. Kit joined her. Says Kit, “I wanted to celebrate her!”

Now Maama is preparing to finish the Laubach curriculum and look toward the future of contributing to her family’s income through work. She still has a way to go in becoming fully certified across the state of Maryland in her goal profession, which is to work in hospice care for the elderly, but in the meantime, her confidence in her ability to express what she needs and wants in English has soared. “I’m feeling better. It’s better now. Now I can explain what I think. Before I know, but I don’t know how to explain. Now I can explain, in bad English, but…” She trails off, chuckling. “If you know how to ask this, how to say that, if you put some conversation in, it helps with daily life.”

She adds, “If you are new to this country, you should go to the LCMC and try to get a tutor.” She looks at Kit, and places her hand on her friend’s. “She is not only my English tutor; she is my tutor for me in my daily living in America. That’s why I would tell everyone to find the Literacy Council, to find someone to help facilitate their integration into America.”

To become a tutor like Kit, click here for opportunities to learn more about the requirements and rewards of our volunteer tutoring program. Don’t have time to volunteer but want to support learners like Maama? A $35 donation can provide one adult learner learning to read and write with the textbooks and materials needed to make the same kind of progress as Maama.