Mazharul Khan teaching his mother, Amena Choudhury. Photo by Jason Prupas/Good News Toronto
Mazharul Khan is part of Youth Empowering Parents, a program where low-English speaking adults sign up to get free English and computer lessons from local youth volunteers, who themselves earn volunteer hours towards obtaining their high school diplomas.
At YEP, an educator only provides guidelines and facilitates the classroom where each adult is individually tutored by a youth who speaks the same language as they do. In some cases, that youth is their own child.
Mazharul teaches his mother, Amena Choudhury. They attend the two-hour classes every Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re both learning,” Mazharul says. “She’s learning on the computer and she’s learning English while I’m learning how to teach.”
Two semesters in, Mazharul has lost count of his volunteer hours.
“I’m going to stay there a long time,” he says.
Since moving to Canada from Bangladesh in 1996, Amena briefly attended a traditional ESL class but finds YEP’s weekend hours more convenient. She’s also learning faster with a personal tutor who speaks the same language.
“YEP is much better because with my son I can understand easily,” she says. “And my son is with me at home, so if I need anything I can ask him.”
Children of immigrants are often translating for their parents, making phone calls, or filling out forms on their behalf, and YEP co-founder Agazi Afewerki says this is why the program works so well.
“Very little training is required for the youth,” he says. “The reason is that they do this kind of thing at home with their own parents and so it translates quite easily into the classroom.”
It was this perfect fit that inspired Agazi and friend Mohammed Shafique, both residents of Regent Park, an area with large new immigrant and youth populations, to start YEP.
“We’ve got a ton of youth you can recruit and a ton of adults who need to learn these basic skills,” says Agazi.
Over 100 adults and youth have gone through or are currently enrolled in the program that started in a room of a Regent Park apartment building a year and a half ago. They’ve had requests from people from as far as Cambridge, England, who are interested in adopting this innovative model. And while that’s on hold until they better structure the program, they do plan on expanding.
“What we’re hoping to do is to expand at the very least to other Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods,” Agazi says.
And since being one of ten recipients of the The Intercultural Innovation Award, a partnership between the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and BMW Group, this past December, the UNAOC and the BMW Group will help YEP expand and replicate in other settings where it may be useful.
The unique teaching method means the adults are not the only ones learning at YEP. The youth gain teaching and communication skills, as well as a sense of empowerment and responsibility. And special relationships are also formed.
“Often you’ll find that an adult is actually serving as a mentor for the youth,” Agazi says. “Some of these adults have pretty amazing lives. Some of them are doctors and engineers, or they’ve gone through war-torn countries. And so they have a lot to say.”
Even for the youth teaching their own parents, it’s a different kind of quality time and a chance to give back.
“Me and my mom, we talk a lot in both classes. It’s really fun,” Mazharul says. “Sometimes we get homework and we go over it together. And for computers too, we study our notes that they give us.”
And the parents are proud.
“I can’t believe my son is teaching me,” Amena says. “Everybody likes him. This is a good opportunity for us.”