When UVA second-year Alazar Aklilu was seven years old, he immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. He knows what it feels like to study under the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) curriculum, and wants to serve as an example and inspiration for his ESOL students.

“Stepping out of the ‘me first’ mentality some come to college with, and doing something to positively impact peoples’ lives can really go a long way,” Alazar says. “I wanted to contribute to the betterment of someone’s life the way my ESOL tutors contributed to mine when I was in elementary school.”

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"I want to contribute to the betterment of someone's life the way my ESOL tutors contributed to mine."

Ever since he was little, Alazar says he felt amazed by movies he watched in Africa, like E.T. and Spiderman.

“It was an entrance into a new world,” says Alazar, who aspires to be a film director. “I want to give that same feeling that movies gave to me, so that kids around the world could someday watch my movies and say, ‘Wow, so there’s more to this than I know?’” He wants to tell stories with universal themes that children — regardless of their nationality — can enjoy and use as motivation to realize their dreams.

Now a program director for Madison House’s ESOL program at Charlottesville High School, Alazar spends two or three hours every week with students and adults from around the world helping them with English reading and speaking tasks.

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English for Speakers of Other Languages

Image: ESOL Head Program Director and Program Directors

Total service hours during 2016 – 2017 academic year:

2,143 hours


Value of volunteers’ 2016 – 2017 service hours:


Community Partner Organizations

Adult Learning Center, Albemarle High School Adult Tutoring, Buford Middle School, Charlottesville High School, Jack Jouett Middle School, Walker Upper Elementary School, University Baptist Church

Alazar remembers tutoring Ahmed, a 19-year old student from Syria, who Alazar says was already well-versed in the English language. One day, Alazar asked Ahmed why he was enrolled in ESOL programming.

“[Ahmed] didn’t believe he had a chance in real classrooms against native speakers — a similar fear I had in elementary school,” Alazar recounts. “When I told him my story, he taught me that it took more than just knowing the language to be ready for the real world. It took confidence [and] humility.”

Alazar had never considered that age affects one’s willingness to fail in front of others. While Alazar was teaching Ahmed, Ahmed taught Alazar to incorporate more confidence-building skills in his English lessons.


"There is no 'I' in 'House,' but there is an'US.' "

“There’s no ‘I’ in House, but there is an ‘US,’” Alazar says.

Enrolled in UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences, Alazar has yet to declare his major. He says it will likely be English.