On the night of May 15, Michael Morsches, dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness at Moraine Valley, took part in the community college’s 46th commencement helping to honor some 500 graduates. The next morning he boarded a plane to go half-way around the world to help thousands of young people achieve success.

He will serve two months as an English Language Specialist at the behest of the U.S. Department of State at Mole Camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operates the camp, which has a population of 27,000 people who have fled the civil war in the Central African Republic. Morsches will assist with implementing an English language curriculum at the camp’s new secondary school and providing teacher training to the camp’s English teachers and English club leaders. That’s where the U.S. Department of State comes in. It is one of several partners assisting the UN with providing services.

“The primary language in the Congo is French, so that’s why they want an ESL program,” Morsches said. Around 75 percent of the camp consists of refugees under the age of 25. He estimates there could be upwards of 5,000 secondary-age students. The UN is providing mostly primary education so is not able to provide secondary education. Many of the young people, however, want to continue their development in secondary education or even university. “The State Department wants those students also to learn English,” he said.

Morsches also is excited about the other half of his assignment—creating English conversation clubs in the camp and developing a handbook for the clubs. One of the main reasons he believes he was selected is officials in the Department of State’s education branch were enthusiastic about Moraine Valley’s program.
“It will be a model for other refugee camps around the world,” he said. They will be based on the successful model at Moraine Valley. “We have about 80 students from 15 countries who take part in our conversation clubs over the weekend—many come Friday through Sunday for a total of 10 hours. They become comfortable speaking English, and they build a support network,” Morsches said.

He will work with about 100 teachers, and that’s another component he really looks forward to doing. “There is contagious energy—students are excited and the teachers are excited.” He will help the teachers learn methodology. “They’re really bright teachers, but they haven’t learned how to teach,” he said. “I can help them be better teachers.”

Morsches also will spend time in the nearby villages’ schools—he is required to live in the UN settlement rather than at Camp Mole, although he is accustomed to living in refugee camps. He lived and worked for two years in a camp in Yemen where there was no electricity or running water. He earned his chops 30 years ago when he joined the Peace Corps in Jamaica, then moved to Tanzania and then onto the Middle East. So when he steps foot onto Camp Mole for the first time, he’ll be prepared… sorta. “I’m expecting to be overwhelmed. It will be 100 miles per hour from the beginning, but it will be exciting. They take their education very seriously,” he said.

For more information, call Mark Horstmeyer, Director of College and Community Relations, at (708) 974-5275, or e-mail: horstmeyer@morainevalley.edu.