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New program helps refugees become Georgia teachers

The program's goal is to fill teacher shortages across the state while helping refugees pursue a teaching degree and career.

DECATUR, Ga. — A group of refugees are training to be teachers in Georgia classrooms. 

It's happening through a partnership between the Refugee Women's Network nonprofit in Atlanta and International Community School in Decatur.

When the nonprofit asked Sima Jha Niroula if she had any interest in being a teacher, she said she almost didn’t believe it.

“Being a teacher was my past dream,” Niroula said. 

Niroula, her husband and their two daughters moved to the US from Nepal in 2022.

"When I came here, everything was new to me," she said. "I had to leave all of [our] things behind in my country. We were struggling here just to survive.”

She said she jumped at the chance to be a part of the program.

Saaduyah Alani recalled receiving the same, life-changing call.

“They say, we have opportunity for you to be a teacher," Alani said. "I didn't believe that in that time. How? How can I be?”

International Community School interim executive director Fran Carroll had the idea to work with the Refugee Women's Network to train refugees to become teachers and offer them jobs at the school. 

The school, based in Dekalb County, touts over 30 countries represented and more than 25 languages spoken.

“When our community is empowered to provide for their families, to become productive members of society, everyone wins," Carroll said. "Our children are winning. Our school is winning. And hopefully, this is going to help fill the gap in just teacher shortages that we're seeing across the state.”

Niroula and Alani are a part of the first pilot program. They are working as teaching assistants while they complete their degrees.

They’re making a salary while studying and all costs – childcare, their schooling and testing – are fully covered.

“They are supporting us to stand on our feet, to do something for ourselves and to make my dream come true to being a teacher," Niroula said.

Alani explained that learning goes both ways.

“I learn more English because the kids in kindergarten, they are learning like basic language, everything from the beginning, and I need that," Alani said. "I learn with them. I'm happy because I'm making something for my future.”

As the women work toward a brighter future and new careers, Carroll said it's also a lesson for the students.

“We're teaching our students perseverance, how you can take some of life's challenges and turn them into rewards," she said. "We're teaching our students that it's never too late. We teaching our young girls to see actively happening in their classroom, women making a difference.”

Carrol said she hopes to expand the program's reach to more refugees, and more schools across the state. 

The degrees take about two years to complete. The pilot program consists of three women, including Niroula and Alani. They are set to get their degrees in 2024. 

At that time the program will open to a new round of applicants. 

“My daughters have never seen me working but now they feel more proud," Niroula said. "They can believe in me now.”

You can learn more about the Refugee Women's Network or contact them for assistance here.

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