Literacy In Wisconsin: Liberian Refugee Miss Elizabeth Finds New Life In Milwaukee

By Erika Janik | February 8, 2016


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Miss Elizabeth came to Milwaukee from Liberia in 2007. She knew no English. She’d never really even gone to school.

“Well, I didn’t go to school but I went to Arabic school. My father sent me there. I was there for 2 years. I wanted to go to school but my father didn’t agree to that,” says Miss Elizabeth. “He said I can’t go, I can’t go to English school.”

Her father, she says, didn’t understand the importance of an education.

“My father, he was a farmer. He take me to the farm. And I was there until I was 16 years and then I got married. I have 8 children,” explains Miss Elizabeth.

Then civil war came to Liberia.

“When the war come, 1989, by the time the rebel war come in Monrovia. We were confused. We didn’t know where to go. At the same time, they were killing the people. They killed a lot of the people,” she says.

More than 200,000 people would die in the war. Tens of thousands fled the country.

But then, one of Miss Elizabeth’s son secured refuge in Milwaukee. He later sent for the rest of his family. He also helped his mother learn English.

“As soon as I come, my son told me “ma, they have school for all people. I want you to go there so you can learn how to read and write your name. So you can learn English. So he sent me here,” explains Miss Elizabeth.

She’s come a long way.

“Well, when I came here newly I didn’t know how to write my name down. And from 1-2-3 to 100, I would not know that. And from January to December, I would not know that. They taught me all that,” she says.

Miss Elizabeth is happy to be here.

“I love America. I really do. Because of the freedom. Yeah. I’m free, new country free, my children is free. Everyone is all happy,” says Miss Elizabeth. “I like Liberia but America, I really want to stay here now.”

Find a literacy program near you here

Erika Janik

Erika Janik

Erika Janik is the co-creator and former executive director of Wisconsin Life. She is the author of six books, including Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction, Apple: A Global History, and  Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She’s currently the executive...
2019-02-20T19:02:45-06:00Tags: , , , , , , , |

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