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Providence in the Desert opens new doors for student

Martha Langarica leads a class of immigrants in learning the basics of the English language. Martha, an immigrant farm worker herself, is a student and teacher for Providence in the Desert.

Martha Langarica is a shining example of what Providence in the Desert is all about.

Martha came to the United States from the state of Nayarit in Mexico 25 years ago. She came to work in the fields so that she could make enough money to pay for her mother’s heart medication. Several years later her mother followed her to the United States, and Martha continued to work in the fields.

But though she had been in the country more than 20 years, Martha still didn’t speak English.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to learn English. When I worked in the fields, I didn’t try to speak English. I had no opportunity to speak it,” Martha said.

That’s where Providence in the Desert entered the picture and opened doors for Martha that had been closed for years.

About five years ago, Sister Carol Nolan, SP, came to a church service on Avenue 70 in rural Thermal, California, where Martha lives, and announced that she was planning to start teaching English to those interested in learning. Martha signed up and has been attending classes ever since.

Sister Carol and other teachers with Providence in the Desert go to the homes of their students, workers tired from laboring all day in the fields, to Martha and others like her who are eager to learn the language of their new country.

“We learn dialogs, history, geography, writing English, grammar, lots of vocabulary. We have learned present and present progressive tenses, and also future and past tense,” said Martha.

“Now I use more English when I go to the stores. I can read better. I understand more words. When my aunt got her passport picture, I talked to the clerk in English. I read to her little granddaughters, using easy books that they understand. I read signs in town.”

When Sister Carol founded Providence in the Desert in 2002, she sought out some of the poorest people in the United States, and she asked them what they needed. After talking with immigrant field workers in the trailer parks of the Coachella Valley in California (sometimes referred to as “Third World California”), she identified their needs as they saw them: for the adults to learn English, for human services assistance, and, upon hearing of Sister Carol’s lifetime of teaching music, for music lessons for their children. Providence in the Desert was born.

A program of Guerin Outreach Ministries and a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., Providence in the Desert is a not-for-profit ministry that depends on grants and donations in order to continue and grow.

Last year, Martha’s journey with Providence in the Desert came full circle. The ministry needed to expand to be able to serve more people. Three new teachers were sought to teach evening classes. Martha was hired to teach a beginner’s English class.

“From the beginning, Martha has exhibited an exceptional grasp of the English language. Martha is proving to be a successful teacher in every way; her classes are organized, interesting and effective. Teaching is also helping her overcome her own reticence about speaking English in an unstructured setting. Evidently her students are spreading the word, as the class size has doubled since September,” Sister Carol said.

“When I began teaching for Providence in the Desert, I was excited and nervous. I sometimes ask my younger cousins how to pronounce words. But I don’t worry when I am teaching. I have never taught before, but I like it,” Martha said.

The class Martha teaches meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. She still works full-time in the fields, in a date packing plant and in housekeeping. She also continues to take a class with Providence in the Desert to continue learning English.

“I like learning so that I can teach more. In class I have no problem, but when I go out I have trouble speaking in a free situation,” she said.

A second teacher hired by Providence in the Desert this year was Gretchen Alvarado. A 33-year veteran English-as-a-second-language teacher with the Coachella Valley High School, Alvarado joined Providence in the Desert teaching beginning level English to adults in a mobile home park in rural Thermal.

“The class is composed of mainly adults, and it is difficult for them to attend regularly. Progress is slow, but interest is high. The students are very appreciative and grateful for the opportunity to learn a little English,” she said.

“I admire the work that Providence of the Desert is doing. The sisters do a lot more than just hold class. They are genuinely interested in improving the quality of their students’ lives. There is a trust that is built with these individuals that will influence how they will integrate into the community,” Gretchen said.

This is definitely true for Martha Langarica.

Martha is 41 years old; she has been in the United States for 25 years, and last year, thanks in part to Providence in the Desert, she became a citizen of the United States.

To learn more about Providence in the Desert, visit www.GuerinOutreachMinistries.org or call 760-347-3937. Providence in the Desert is always in need of volunteers, monetary contributions or gifts in kind to continue to offer its free educational services to some of the poorest residents of California.

To see more photos of Martha teaching at Providence in the Desert, visit our photo gallery here.

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Advancement Services office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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