MIDWILSHIRE — Among the services offered to political refugees by the Mutual Assistance Assn. Coalition of Los Angeles, the simplest may be the most useful: a chance to practice speaking English.
The coalition of seven refugee agencies in Los Angeles County provides employment and counseling services for newly arrived refugees and a weekly "Talk Time" session for practicing English.
"The Talk Time groups are part of an educational and acculturation process to help refugees become more self-sufficient and, eventually, gainfully employed," said Michael O'Connell, the coalition's coordinator.
The groups meet throughout the week at 28 sites, including one in Mid-Wilshire, and rely on volunteers who spend an hour or two talking with a small group of refugees, mostly from Vietnam, Russia, Armenia, Ethiopia and the Middle East.
"I like meeting with the students and finding out about their thoughts and ideas," said Carol, a volunteer from USC who declined to give her last name. She chatted with three Russians at a recent session.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Larisa Koroleva, a journalist, and her friends Tatyana and Mikhail Vysotskaya, wanted to discuss censorship in American newspapers, the U.S. educational system and why Americans seem to know so little about the rest of the world.
"This is a good chance for me to practice English," Koroleva said. "When I'm with my Russian friends we speak Russian."
Although many of the Talk Time sessions focus on helping refugees prepare for job searches, some sessions deal with earthquakes, landlord-tenant disputes and family problems, said Vicky Majarian of the Armenian Evangelical Social Service Center, who helps recruit volunteers and organize workshops.
The coalition, organized in 1991 with the help of the Institute for Multicultural Counseling and Education Services at 3550 Wilshire Blvd., serves about 1,000 refugees. Information: (213) 381-1250 or (818) 843-5211.