A creative literacy project is helping newcomers in Winnipeg embrace English as an additional language.

Students at Kildonan-East Collegiate wrote stories for a book called ‘Dual Language Stories’. It tells tales in both their mother tongues and English.

Teacher Vanessa Romans got the idea from her own childhood, when she took German classes.

“I said to them, ‘How would you like to write in Arabic?’, and they went, ‘Like, what? This is English class,’” said Romans.

She said the response was unlike anything she’s ever seen.

"They were working. Like, non-stop working. Writing, drawing pictures,” said Romans.

Romans says the level of expression in the stories went way beyond her expectations and the students were thrilled to take part.

Syrian refugees and siblings Fatema, 21, and Hamam Al Hariri, 18, both contributed to the book.

Hamam wrote about his life through the eyes of a boy named Mazen, who escapes the war, but finds himself in Jordan where he must work illegally, fear deportation and experience bullying at school.

“When I wrote it, they see the story and … they feel something about me, and my life,” he said.

Fatema also wrote a story about escaping war, and a girl's dreams of becoming a doctor are put on hold.

"I am happy because she the girl realized her dreams, so it gives me some hope that I can also realize my dream," said Fatema, who also plans to practice medicine.

Romans first thought the book might end up being about five pages, but says the length, detail and level of expression in the stories went beyond her expectations. She said when students feel safe, barriers come down and it's easier for them to communicate.

"It really is the most rewarding thing,” said Romans. “This was such a great avenue for me to get their stories out there and how really important it is to listen to their stories.”

Last year, four English as an additional language students wrote stories. This semester, 10 students are participating.