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Habib brothers of Corner Brook sponsor free course to help foreign residents learn better English

Chethana Mayadunne of Sri Lanka was one of seven people who took advantage of a free course offered to people in Corner Brook to hone their English-speaking skills earlier this year.
Chethana Mayadunne of Sri Lanka was one of seven people who took advantage of a free course offered to people in Corner Brook to hone their English-speaking skills earlier this year. - Gary Kean

Rami and Raad Habib knew how hard it was for their mom to converse with people when she moved to Corner Brook around 20 years ago.

Rose Habib spoke only Arabic and French when she immigrated from Lebanon with her husband Bashir.

She learned how to speak English from a friend she met in Corner Brook.

Chethana Mayadunne and her husband Chameera Illawathure of Sri Lanka chat with brothers Rami and Raad Habib, who raised money to sponsor a free English as a second language course at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook earlier this year.
Chethana Mayadunne and her husband Chameera Illawathure of Sri Lanka chat with brothers Rami and Raad Habib, who raised money to sponsor a free English as a second language course at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook earlier this year.

Just over a year ago, her two sons set about raising money to sponsor an English as a second language course free to people who are now in the same situation Rose was two decades ago.

This past summer, their dream became a reality as seven people availed of a weekly class offered at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University aimed at helping foreign residents now living in the Corner Brook area become better at speaking English.

On Wednesday, the Habib boys — both of whom now attend Dalhousie University in Halifax — finally got to meet some of the students and others who were involved in making the class happen.

“It’s tough for anyone who can’t speak the language to be involved in the community, make friends and live a normal life,” said Rami. “We wanted to give an opportunity to anyone here in Corner Brook who had a similar situation so they would have more opportunities to be involved in their community.”

The course focused on teaching students English at a high level, so they could communicate better socially, as well as with potential employers or others at a professional level within the community.

Chethana Mayadunne was one of the people who took the course. She and her husband, Chameera Illawathure, moved to Corner Brook from Sri Lanka two years ago so he could pursue his master’s degree in geology at Grenfell.

While English is her second language, Mayadunne said she mostly only read and wrote it when living in Sri Lanka. She hasn’t had much opportunity to use it since moving to Corner Brook as she spends much of her time at home caring for their three-year-old daughter Vihara.

She said being in a class with others eager to be able to converse in English more fluently has made a big difference in her language skills. Not only that, but instructor Tom Halford also incorporated lessons about Corner Brook history and culture into the linguistic classes.

“It was very interesting and useful,” she said. “Tom taught us a lot about things here.”

The Habibs raised around $6,000 last year to sponsor the program. About half of that came from donations collected from friends attending the family’s annual Christmas party, while more was collected via a donation box on the counter at Louis Gee’s, the family’s pizzeria business.

Rami Habib (right) and his brother Raad, who raised money to sponsor a free course in speaking English at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook earlier this year, chat with (from left) Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons and Grenfell Campus vice-president Jeff Keshen at a meet-and-greet function at the university Wednesday.
Rami Habib (right) and his brother Raad, who raised money to sponsor a free course in speaking English at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook earlier this year, chat with (from left) Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons and Grenfell Campus vice-president Jeff Keshen at a meet-and-greet function at the university Wednesday.

One of the highlights of the program was offering child care to those who needed it while doing the two-hour weekly course. Both the course and the child care were free of charge to all participants.

Mayadunne was grateful to have availed of that service so she could hone her English.

“They are really generous and I am really thankful for that because they gave us that opportunity,” she said. “If not, we would have to pay so much to get a class like that or the experience.”

The Habibs said they were just happy to be able to do something to make living in Corner Brook a little better for these folks and those they can now interact with more effectively.

“We just think this is something Corner Brook deserves,” said Rami. “It’s a great community and we just want to contribute to it.”

The program will be offered again in the new year. Anyone wanting to be a part of it should get in touch with Grenfell Campus via email at esl@grenfell.mun.ca.

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