Meet Niurka Melendez - Adult Education Student and Activist
In 2015, Niurka Natasha Melendez left her native Venezuela to join her husband, Hector, and son, Samuel in New York City. They had come six months earlier because of the growing problems in Venezuela. In an interview with Upwardly Global in 2017, Niurka stated, “I never planned on leaving Venezuela for good. I thought the move was temporary and that I’d be here for just a few months. I was hoping things in Venezuela would change, but the situation has only worsened.”
In the short time Niurka has been living in New York, she has done phenomenal work for the immigrants in New York City and for the adult education/literacy community. She began her adult education studies in New York at the DOE’s Mid-Manhattan Adult Learning Center where she was enrolled in an ESL 5/6 class. In three months, she was able to exit the ESL program, enabling her to take the accelerated Microsoft Office Certificate class, a class that doesn’t usually accept new immigrants just leaving ESL. Niurka turned out to be the best student in that class and spoke at the graduation ceremony. Afterwards, Niurka enrolled in other New York City programs: a New York Public Library reading class, Community Impact Program for writing at Columbia University, and the ARNIC Program- English in Action where she registered for one year as an asylum seeker. As she improved in her English language competence and self-confidence, Niurka and her husband founded the organization, Venezuelan Immigrants Aid (VIA). As leader of this organization, Niurka advocates for Venezuelans and other immigrants in immigration, health, and education.
Niurka has established free education programs in ESL throughout the city. Currently VIA oversees intermediate pronunciation classes and beginners’ ESOL classes taught by expert volunteers. Previous students of the beginners’ class now attend ARNIC’s program for intermediate asylees. In addition, Niurka and VIA have been working with the New York Immigrant Coalition, doing workshops for the Venezuelan community in New York City in the areas of health systems and insurance. VIA also had two workshops with the Mayor’s Office of New York (MOIA) about IDNYC and other immigrants’ programs that the city has to offer to new immigrants.
At this time, Niurka, who is still awaiting her asylum interview, works part-time for Alcoholics Anonymous, administering their Spanish language website. Niurka is truly an amazing person as she continues to learn and help others adjust to life in the United States.
Thank you, Tilla, for submitting this star student story!
Tilla Alexander is a retired ESOL teacher who taught at the Office of Adult & Continuing Education for more than 21 years. Although she has retired from her paid job, she is still dedicated to the field of teaching immigrant students English. At this time, she is volunteer tutoring for the CIET at La Guardia Community College and volunteer teaching for the organization, Venezuelan Immigrant and Aid, started by her ex-student, Niurka Melendez and her husband Hector Alfredo Arguinzones Noriega.
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