During the initial resettlement phase, refugees not only struggle with the loss of their homeland, but also with the daunting task of quickly adjusting to a new country.  Because the refugee resettlement program only provides rental assistance for the first three months, new arrivals face financial pressure the moment they step-off the plane.

As a result, upon arrival employable refugee are enrolled into the WRDA Job Readiness ESL program.  The six-week curriculum is offered on a continual basis with new refugee students starting on Mondays. Monday. Because working in other countries is very different from working in the U.S. and because refugees come from different backgrounds, they are enrolled in an intensive program.  They are taught basic English language skills, job search and retention skills, and cultural understanding---all with the intent of helping the refugee secure and retain their first U.S. job.

“We are not just helping refugees get a job, but we are also helping them keep the job,” said Karen Jealouse, WRDA Education Director.

All classes are practical in nature and designed to simulate a real job.  For example, strict attendance and tardy polices are enforced and students use a time clock to punch in and out of class each day.  In addition, every six-week cycle includes a visit to a company where students gain hands-on experience in industrial packing. By providing initial English language education and job skill training, refugees are on the path towards stability.

Meet Bunga Bola
In 2005, violence and government corruption forced Bunga Bola and his family to flee the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a refugee camp in Nigeria.  After spending eight years in Nigeria, where basic necessities were often limited, Bunga received news that he and his family were selected for resettlement in the United States. According to Bunga, he was nervous about the unknown, but the orientation before leaving Nigeria helped to prepare him for the next part of the resettlement journey.

Upon arrival in Wheaton in 2013, both Bunga and his wife began attending Job Readiness ESL Classes.  Having acquired some English language skills in Nigeria, Bunga knew he still needed to learn American sayings and cultural norms.  Although a trained machinist in the DRC, he was mentally prepared to start-over in the workplace because in the midst of fleeing he was not able to gather documents to verify his education and training.

After completing the required six-weeks of classes, both he and his wife were hired by a staffing agency to work as Sweepers at R.R. Donnelly.  Bunga recalls using lessons he learned from class immediately.

“I learned to be patient with myself and to ask questions if I didn’t understand---even if it is 10 times,” said Bunga.

And it was Bunga’s questions that prompted his supervisor to take an interest in him.  The supervisor showed him how to work various pieces of equipment, and because Bunga was a fast learner, he quickly moved from the position of Sweeper to Sorter.  And recently, he was hired by R.R. Donnelly as a fulltime machinist.

Bunga attributes his success in the workplace to the lessons he learned in Job Readiness ESL classes.

“I believe that my preparation in Job Class has helped me succeed in everything, “said Bunga.

In addition to working fulltime, Bunga is currently enrolled as a student at College of DuPage and plans to pursue a degree in manufacturing technology.