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World Relief’s new education center helping immigrants settle into life in Spokane

Education Services Manager Morella Perez Suels sits at a desk in the new education center.  (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
Education Services Manager Morella Perez Suels sits at a desk in the new education center. (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

World Relief Spokane has opened a new education center to better serve the needs of incoming immigrants who need assistance settling into a new life in a new culture.

The inaugural class, which started last week, is a computer class for 15 Afghan women. The organization helped resettle nearly 350 people from Afghanistan in only a few months earlier this year, said Barbara Comito, director of development.

In addition to teaching the women computer skills, the classes also serve to bring together women who came from a variety of locations and backgrounds. Some are educated, while others are unable to read or write even in their native language. “We’re talking a wide range,” Comito said.

Forming connections among the new immigrants is particularly important because there’s no community of previous Afghan immigrants in the area to welcome them.

In the cases of other immigrant groups, such as those from Sudan or Ukraine, there are long-established communities here. “They’ve been coming here for years and years and years,” she said.

It is the job of World Relief to welcome a variety of immigrants. They provide initial assistance, including a cultural orientation to explain life in Spokane. They help find housing and get basic household items. The goal is to get at least one person in each household a job right away, said Executive Director Christi Armstrong. These jobs are eagerly welcomed, she said.

“Our resettlement department walks with them for the first 90 days,” she said. “When people come, they’re not interested in surviving. They want to create a life for themselves.”

Creating the education center will help with that goal, said Education Services Manager Morella Perez Suels. “The mission of World Relief is to help the most vulnerable people,” she said. “We want to help them be self-sufficient.”

World Relief has a community ambassador to represent each immigrant group in Spokane. That person helps translate as needed and helps determine what people need to succeed in their new life. Education was one of the needs identified.

The new education center is little more than a small classroom, but World Relief Spokane is already planning future classes in finance and other topics as well as adding computer classes for other immigrant groups.

In starting the computer class, the Afghan women were asked repeatedly what they wanted to learn. “They were so happy about it,” Suels said. “This is part of the strategic plan here at World Relief.”

It was clear that computer skills are needed, Armstrong said. “Ever since COVID, virtual is everything,” she said. “You have to know how to use a computer.”

The classes will also help the new immigrants not become isolated. With that goal in mind, World Relief has a friendship center that has recently hosted a tea for the Afghan women and outings for their children. “We don’t want them to be isolated,” Comito said. “The idea is helping people to integrate.”

At the end of their first computer class, the Afghan women had tea and snacks together, chatting about their lives in Spokane. As the two-month class progresses, they’ll become more skilled at mastering the computers that are an essential part of everyday life.

“With these skills, they can do many things,” Suels said.

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