The Wash

In school for the first time, Eritrean immigrant finds her voice

Ethiopian-born Azeza Abdurkader’s English class at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School is her first chance at a formal education.


She’s a praised learner by her instructors, a helpful classmate among her peers and one of thousands of immigrant students who have enrolled in courses at a Washington, D.C., charter school.

Azeza Abdurkader was born in Ethiopia and raised in Eritrea, where political turmoil prevented her from completing a formal education. Conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, two of the world’s poorest countries, had long caused unrest in both nations before their leaders signed a peace agreement in September, Al Jazeera reported.

Thanks to English as a second language courses at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Columbia Heights, Abdurkader has been finding her voice.

“Before, I don’t speak,” she said. “I want something, I don’t ask.”

Abdurkader said she came to the United States six years ago knowing very little English and started attending Carlos Rosario in 2014. She said her ultimate goal is now to support people back home.

“I want to nurse,” she said. “I want to help people.”

Carlos Rosario’s English as a second language courses target adults and families with little to no reading, writing or speaking experience. The school has offered educational and support programs to the district’s immigrant population for more than 40 years, according to the school’s website.

Alex Whitney, Abdurkader’s English teacher, said he feels gratified to see how well his students from different backgrounds and countries come together to tackle literacy.

“There was one class where I had an 18-year-old and an 87-year-old,” Whitney said. “They were working together and interacting. It was rewarding to see.”

Whitney, who has been teaching at Carlos Rosario for nearly five years, said he’s proud of the strides Abdurkader has made in his class. He said he gets emotional thinking about her progress in learning to communicate in a new language.

“Her comprehension is excellent,” he said. “She has all the tools … the willingness, the desire.”

Crystal Garner

Crystal Garner

I’m a public affairs and journalism graduate student at American University, specializing in investigative journalism. I’m interested in topics related to science, technology and minority communities.

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