Mercy Martis and her four children fled a refugee camp on the Ivory Coast in March 1999, leaving behind her husband, a fifth child, and her native country Liberia in the throes of war.
Martis arrived on Staten Island, her family’s immigration sponsored by an Interfaith Lutheran organization, and now calls Stapleton home. Martis soon began working with the Superior Confections Company, and eventually entered the Adult Literacy Program at CSI, a part of the College’s Continuing Education department.
Staci Weile, Director of Grants and Public Contracts with the program has arranged for Martis’ participation to be paid by grant monies. “These programs are gifts to the students that open up the world of reading and writing,” said Weile, “and serve as stepping stones to greater challenges.”
Martis attended courses at CSI to learn English and function independently in society. Today, she has become competent enough to fill out important forms and attend inservice classes for her job. Certain forms in particular were Martis’ favorites-those that allowed her husband and fifth child to immigrate to the U.S. as well.
September 5 is International Literacy Day 2002, and serves as a call to ensure gains in literacy among those marginalized due to ethnicity, language, gender, and/or religion in America’s communities. Martis will be part of a special program entitled “Reflections on September 11” in the UN Delegates Dining Hall.
Martis was at work on September 11, 2001 when the news reached her. “It was horrible. I was filled with fear. It was like a dream,” says Martis. “It reminded me of the war in Liberia, when a plane bombed my country in 1992 and killed many people.” Remembering this, Martis became more horrified.
Later that fateful day, the fear, sorrow, and confusion continued when her son asked, “If a plane was to come and bomb again, where would we go?” and her daughter wondered “Who will be there for us in case of anything else?” Martis didn’t know the answers, but replied “God will take care.”
“For me, it was a sad day. I cried the whole night. I could not sleep,” wrote Martis. “I feel sorry for the people who lost their loved ones.”
Martis will be one of the select adult learners whose reflections will be highlighted at the United Nations on September 5. Martis’ reflections, along with those of Vasvije Cenovski from Yugoslavia, an Islander and classmate, will have their writings published in Literacy Harvest by the Literacy Assistance Center of New York (LAC) as part of its “Literacy for Diversity: Voices of Resilience” program.