Tutor Tom Barnes, came to OLC looking to add new dimensions to his life following retirement.
Tom recalls he was asking himself, “What do I really want to do and how do I want to help the world?”
Recent Oakland Literacy Council graduate Zaw came to OLC with many goals for learning English, including communicating with coworkers and customers better.
“At my job, I’m alone, so I do not speak much. My department coworkers just say ‘hi’ and not too much else,” says Zaw.
Zaw’s drive to learn and Tom’s drive has been a perfect match for learning and friendship.
Five years ago, Zaw immigrated with his family from Myammar, a country and people now suffering following the recent military coup. In the U.S., Zaw faces a different kind of challenge: learning English while working 50 hours a week as a sushi chef and caring for wife, Le Le, and young son. Zaw and LeLe (also an OLC graduate!) are expecting their second child soon.
Zaw also wanted to improve his English to be able to travel around the U.S. with his family to see places like Niagara Falls. In addition, he wants to be able to go to doctor’s appointments on his own. These appointments require a lot of English communication.
Learning English with Tom has helped Zaw become more confident in speaking English. He can also listen to English and convert what he wants to say from Burmese into English faster than before.
Tom Barnes was a dedicated engineer at Ford for 36 years, enjoying his work and his traveling throughout his career. After retiring at the end of 2020, Tom considered how he would spend his newfound time.
He says that, even though as an engineer he leans toward math, he always thought he wanted to help people read.
“I remember one of the books I read when I was a little kid was about Tom Seaver, the pitcher, in 1969. And having the Guiness Book of World Records and the almanac. [Reading] takes you places; it takes you anywhere.”
Tom feels that through tutoring Zaw he has had his eyes opened and grown more empathetic from seeing how the challenges others face and how he can impact their lives. Tom respects and values Zaw as a friend.
“Zaw’s been the same person the whole time I’ve known him…very dedicated, honest, very reliable…,” says Tom. “He is a fine person.”
Zaw and Tom no longer meet for tutoring, but their friendship continues. They talk regularly and recently played tennis together. Coincidently, they even dressed alike at the OLC graduation in July!
Zaw’s need to learn English brought Tom and Zaw together. Their relationship has made an impact on their lives that is well beyond words.
— With special thanks to Jackson Latek, recent Eastern Michigan University graduate, for helping us tell Zaw and Tom’s story