Three outstanding adult students — including one Turlock woman — and two advocates for adult literacy will be recognized at the 2018 Celebrate Literacy awards ceremony.
The awards banquet will be hosted by the Literacy Network of Stanislaus County, and will take place 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 2 at the Petersen Event Center, 720 12th St. in downtown Modesto. Awards will be presented for outstanding achievement in English as a Second Language, Literacy, and High School Diploma or Equivalency.
The Betty Mulnix Service Award will be presented to a distinguished practitioner in the field of literacy and the Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award will be presented to a Stanislaus County administrator who has made outstanding contributions to the cause of literacy.
Turlock resident Arowa Ghazi will be presented with the High School Diploma or Equivalency Outstanding Achievement award. She was born and raised in the traditional culture of Yemen where she was entitled to the Bride Price for her hand in marriage. Instead of demanding material items like money, clothes, or a house, she made her fiancé promise to provide her with an education. He agreed, but did not follow through after the wedding — that was just the beginning of Arowa’s story.
It seemed that the goal of education was put behind her when, after two years of marriage and two daughters, her husband moved their family to the United States. Now in Texas with young children at home, Arowa’s husband had forbidden her from any type of schooling so she could care for them. After a third daughter was born and reached four years old, another request to gain an education was denied.
Arowa stayed vigilant and took it upon herself to find a way to gain the education she was promised. Being resourceful, she began selling items on eBay; with the $100 earned every month, she was able to afford an online course for a high school diploma. However, she kept dealing with the constant issue of having limited English skills, taking hours to type product descriptions and answer buyer questions on eBay. The online course was difficult for her as well. “I really didn’t understand anything because I had to translate everything and it was very hard,” she said.
In 2012, her children were school-aged and Arowa was looking forward to attending the local college, but her husband remained opposed to the idea of education and intervened.
“My husband did not want me to get my high school diploma so he moved us to California and made sure I got pregnant again,” she said.
A year after her son was born, Arowa’s mother had heart surgery and she was needed in New York to care for her. Her husband said that she was allowed to go, but to leave all four children with him; he planned to quit his job to care them while she way away.
Arowa pleaded with him to at least let her take their 1-year-old son, especially since he was still breast-feeding. He reluctantly agreed.
Her flight out was cancelled and she was faced with a dilemma while waiting at the airport.
“I had no money and the phone he gave me had no minutes, so I was stuck with a baby and had to get help from strangers so I could call my husband,” she said.
Unfortunately, that was not the last of her struggles.
After leaving California, Arowa discovered that her husband had secretly planned to take their daughters to Yemen while she was away. By the time she realized his plot, it was too late and they had already left the country.
Now divorced, it has been four years since her daughters were taken and she still waits and searches for them.
Her ex-husband and daughters have returned somewhere in the States, but she is unable to find his exact location while he works only for cash, leaving no trail to follow.
“I don’t know if I will ever see my daughters again,” she said.
Currently living with her mother and son, Arowa remains strong fighting for her education and hoping for her daughters to return to her. She found LearningQuest and, in just over a year, improved her English skills and earned her High School Equivalency Diploma.
As a Fall 2017 LearningQuest graduate, she is now a student worker at MJC and is already pushing through her second semester. Dreams of nursing school are in sight and have become achievable. The odds were stacked against her, but Arowa continues to succeed by staying determined and full of hope.
Other recipients are:
English as a Second Language (ESL) Award – Bernadet Mokhatas
As Assyrians in Iran, Mokhatas and her husband were deprived of university-level education and good jobs. They came to the U.S. to pursue their dreams but, knowing no English, and Mokhatas faced innumerable challenges. She walked over an hour each day to be a caregiver for an elderly woman who verbally abused her. Nevertheless, she enrolled at Modesto Junior College where she earned As, had perfect attendance, and became a tutor in the Writing Center. She plans to go on to a university as an English major, with the goal of becoming an English teacher.
Literacy Award – Silvia Cazarin
Cazarin lived a privileged life in her native Mexico, but when her town descended into lawlessness she fled the danger and came to the U.S., bringing only her 15-year-old daughter and a single suitcase. She applied herself to learning English through LearningQuest’s Literacy program and in just one year has improved two grade levels. Tasks that may seem normal to most are new to Cazarin, and she is using the library and its resources to learn cooking and other useful tasks.
The Betty Mulnix Service Award — Denise Nordell
A tutor with LearningQuest’s literacy program at the Modesto Library for more than 10 years, Nordell also worked with incarcerated students at the jail while she simultaneously held a full-time job. Through tutoring at Fremont Elementary School, she was trained in the Barton Method for Reading and Spelling and now uses this program with LearningQuest students with dyslexia and other reading and language difficulties. Nordell shares her experiences and advice with new tutors during LearningQuest tutor trainings. Having worked at The Modesto Bee and at CSU Stanislaus, Nordell has expertise in communications and provides these skills to LearningQuest, editing the monthly newsletter, developing promotional materials, and generating stories for social media.
The Jean and Clyde Dunlap Award — Mary Anne Strom
Mary Anne Strom nee Parker is credited with participating in the groundbreaking work that ultimately led to the creation of LearningQuest. In 1987, Parker, then employed at Tri-Valley Growers, recognized the need for literacy training among cannery workers. Together with Margaret Land of the Volunteer Center and Martha Jantzen of the Teamsters Union, she developed a vision that incorporated non-profit agencies, educators and libraries to meet the needs of an evolving workforce. Parker later joined the board of directors of Stanislaus Literacy Center (now LearningQuest) and helped establish its first office. Parker’s contribution to literacy has borne great fruit, beginning with her vision for a better-educated citizenry.
The Literacy Network Awards Luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m. and is open to the public. Cost is $30 and includes a catered lunch. To register, call (209) 238-1766 or visit celebrateliteracy2018.eventbrite.com.