Smart Girls and Smoke Detectors

2021 n01

Celia heard the beep as soon as she entered the apartment. Using Google translate, she asked Sada, “What is that noise?” But Sada didn’t know, so Celia followed the sound to the smoke detector in the hallway. She showed Sada and tried to explain that they needed to change the battery.

Sada and her husband, Abe, fled their home after Abe’s life was threatened because of his work with the US military. They’ve been in Knoxville for less than a year now, and they had a baby in the middle of this pandemic. When they arrived, Sada knew absolutely no English. Between Covid restrictions and cultural differences, she hadn’t found an opportunity to learn until KIN paired her with Celia through our LaMP Program.

Sada’s goal is to learn to speak and read English so she can get a driver’s license and, later, help her children with their schoolwork. She’s made good progress since Celia began working with her in early fall! “She’s smart,” Celia says, “She’s a smart girl, and she’s only [in her early 20s].”

But being smart doesn’t mean you know what to do when your smoke detector beeps. Turns out, it wasn’t a simple battery change. It took a full week before Abe and Celia’s husband finally solved the problem. That’s a full week of trying to sleep, study, parent—even just think—with the smoke detector beeping every minute. (Most of us would have hit it with a hammer!)

“If I didn’t go in their home twice a week, I don’t know how they would learn American culture,” Celia said. She spends her workdays in front of a computer, but “looking at a spreadsheet is a lot different from looking across the table at an [international] woman.” Celia continues, “I love it. I really love it.”


Fixing a smoke detector is one of the thousand things our international neighbors must learn when they move to metro Knoxville. You also know many, many things a new-to-Knoxville family still needs to learn—from smoke detectors to mac-&-cheese brands to speaking English. You don’t have to be a professional teacher to pass along that knowledge as long as you’re willing to sit across the table from an international man or woman…and maybe endure a smoke detector beeping while you talk. Start your volunteer application here.

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