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Doing the write thing

Siena program pairs students and local refugees looking to improve their written language skills

Siena professor John Harden talks with students and refugees who are part of Writing Partnership at the Delaware Avenue Branch of the Albany Public Library

Siena professor John Harden talks with students and refugees who are part of Writing Partnership at the Delaware Avenue Branch of the Albany Public Library

A local writing partnership has Siena students teaching creative writing to refugees as a tool to help them improve their reading and writing skills.

The Community Engaged Writing Partnership, now in its fourth year, was started by Albany native and Siena professor John Harden to help adults on the south end of Albany improve their reading and writing skills.

“We were looking at the needs of people attempting to get their GEDs,” said Harden. “The main skill that was needed most was writing skills. Now, I teach first-year students at Siena, and as soon as I heard that people weren’t crazy to show their writing, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, what do my Siena students need help with the most?’ That’s improvement with their writing skills.”

Harden said, because of that, it seemed a natural fit to pair Siena students with the community members as a way to help both groups. The writing partnership meets once a week.

About a year and a half into the program, a leader from the Karen community approached Harden and asked if the class could help the refugees that had settled in the Albany area.

A longtime civil war in Burma between the Burmese Army and more than 100 diverse ethnic groups has prompted many refugees to cross the border into Thailand. From there, some made their way to Albany, which now has a community of roughly 450 refugees made up of the Karen and Karreni ethnic groups.

The writing class then moved to the library on Delaware Avenue because it is closer to where most of the refugees live and it’s easily accessible.

“What we do here, is we work together in a partnership (with) both Siena students and the refugees writing personal stories and working to improve every part of their English,” said junior Adderlin Tevaras, the lead student coordinator.

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