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Thursday, August 3, 2023

‘I would like to see everything that life has to give to me:’ El Centro Graduate Doris Ferreira on Adapting to Using a Wheelchair and the Power of a Supportive Community

When Doris Ferreira arrived in America in 2021 with limited English proficiency, she never imagined that two years later she would be giving a speech in front of classmates at her graduation ceremony from Catholic Charities’ El Centro ESOL program.

For Doris, learning English in a new country was not that different from learning to adapt to using a wheelchair––requiring resilience and the ability to view challenges as opportunities for growth.

Doris had grown up in Cape Verde and earned her degree in education from a university in Brazil, where she had played soccer and participated in dance competitions. In December 2015, Doris was seriously injured in a car accident that left her paralyzed in her legs. She was flown to Portugal for surgery and spent nearly a year separated from her 11-year-old son while receiving treatment and learning to adjust to the loss of mobility in her legs. What she did not lose, however, was the radiant spirit of hope that she said carried her to where she is today.

“It helps to have people around supporting you,” she said.

It is Doris’ bright spirit and love for life that made her former El Centro teacher George McKibbens describe her as “one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met.”

“Every time this student comes to class, everyone – and I mean everyone – is happy to be there,” he said. “If she is ever not there, everyone is like, ‘Where’s Doris?’”

The profound impact that Doris had on her classmates reflects the rich sense of community that El Centro is known for. Nationally recognized for providing high-quality ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes to immigrants in the Greater Boston area, El Centro is unique in its ability to foster meaningful, lifelong relationships among students and staff.

“I made so many friends, and I learned a lot about the U.S.,” said Doris. “I know I still have a lot more to learn, but because of El Centro, I know to never give up.”

Beyond welcoming her to the community and supporting her learning journey, Doris said she appreciated that El Centro’s building was handicapped accessible and that her teachers allowed her to participate remotely when needed.

Looking toward the future, Doris said she is actively working with El Centro Director Marianna Geraskina to apply to colleges that will allow her to continue improving her English and hopes to eventually pursue a career in education in the U.S. She said that when her English is strong enough, she would be interested in helping others by working as a translator.

“I love new experiences. I would like to see everything I can and explore the world, even from my wheelchair,” Doris said. “I feel free in my wheelchair. I would like to see everything that life has to give to me.”

Known widely among communities in Cape Verde and New England, Doris has become an advocate for people with physical disabilities, using social media to empower and spread awareness. Explore Doris’ Instagram handle here.

To learn more about El Centro’s program, click here.

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