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Diane Rademacher volunteers as a tutor and helped an Afghan refugee at her home in St. Louis in September.
Diane Rademacher volunteers as a tutor and helped an Afghan refugee at her home in St. Louis in September.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston | St. Louis Review

Welcoming the stranger provides purpose for volunteer serving as tutor

Tutoring refugees provides purpose for volunteer

Diane Rademacher has been serving as a tutor to an Afghan refugee for several years, helping her out in several aspects of life in the United States. She recently helped the woman prepare documents as part of the process to bring the refugee’s relatives out of danger in her home country.

They laughed at some computer issues. The refugee woman, who Rademacher has known for several years and is now a U.S. citizen, explained what she thought of Rademacher: “She’s the best!”

A parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis, Rademacher serves as a resource for the Afghan woman she tutors and her family. “It’s everything from medical care to traffic tickets, everyday questions and immigration questions. It’s way beyond English literacy, all the things that come up in life where they need some assistance. I’m happy to help where I can,” Rademacher explained.

It’s an expression of her faith to be of service to a stranger, Rademacher said. “I try by example to show them what a Christian would do. If they ask my opinions on things, sometimes I’ll tell them it’s guided by what I believe. It’s an opportunity God has presented me. These people came into my life for a reason. It’s given me a real purpose in retirement.”

Rademacher is a tutor with the Immigrant Home English Learning Program, but she does much more. She started volunteering in 2008 as a tutor with the Carondelet Literacy program, an effort of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Through the program, she tutored several people, including the Afghan woman, helping her with English and math. The program ended, and Rademacher became involved with the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s program, now known as the Immigrant Home English Learning Program (ihelp), which has an office in the former St. John the Baptist High School in St. Louis.

“They provide the resources, the books and curriculum, and do periodic reviews to see how the students are coming along,” said Rademacher, who is retired from the National Archives and is the author of “Still Shining: Discovering Lost Treasures from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair” and “Famous Firsts of St Louis.”

An attorney helped the Afghan woman bring her sister and mother here from Afghanistan. The woman’s brother, his wife and their three children are seeking to come to the United States now through a humanitarian parole application. The family is at risk because their father was an Army officer in the Afghan army, was captured, beaten and died in a Taliban prison.

Rademacher considers the Afghans, who are of the Muslim faith, an extended family and the feeling is mutual. They sometimes talk about similarities in their religions, but don’t challenge each other’s faith. Those discussions are infrequent as Rademacher believes that actions speak louder than words and that friendship transcends differences.

The Ladies of Charity at Rademacher’s parish is helping the family by paying for one of the humanitarian parole applications.

Her tutoring now consists of helping the original woman’s younger sister and includes virtual meetings, conversations, book-learning, reading and writing. They do fun things as well such as picnics and visits to cultural institutions. They played a game of washer toss, and the Afghans found it very entertaining.

Rademacher, whose grandfather was an immigrant from Germany, said her tutoring has broken any stereotypes she may have had about people from Afghanistan and the Middle East: “These are wonderful people.”

>> Volunteer opportunity

The Immigrant Home English Learning Program (ihelp) connects volunteer teachers with adult immigrant and refugee learners in the community to develop English and life skills. Teachers and students create new friendships and learn about each other.

Julie Fox, executive director of ihelp, is anticipating that some of the Afghan refugees coming to St. Louis will reach out to learn English and acclimate to the culture. The program has a long waiting list already, so volunteers are needed to assist with teaching the Afghan refugees and other recent arrivals to the community.

Currently ihelp has 76 Afghan students in it program and 29 Afghans waiting for a teacher. Overall, it has 211 people waiting for a teacher, so the program cannot promise anyone that they would be matched with an Afghan student.

“They are coming from a very terrible situation,” Fox said. “So as they come here, we need to be welcoming and understand their needs. When they come here, they want to work and be part of society. We have to be patient and understanding, putting ourselves in their shoes.”

The refugees she’s met are welcoming, thankful and go out of their way to make the tutors feel comfortable, Fox said.

Founded in 1995 by Sister Elise Silvestri of the School Sisters of Notre Dame as the Immigrant Refugee Women’s Program, the organization functioned as a ministry of School Sister of Notre Dame until 2006 when it became a separate charitable organization. The Catholic community “remains a great partner with us,” Fox said.

For information on ihelp or to volunteer or assist the program, visit ihelpstl.org.

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