This summer, 100 refugee children from everywhere from Nepal to Burkina Faso took part in the Refugee Youth Summer Academy in New York City, as reported by Kirk Semple in his August 26 New York Times article, “In New York, with Six Weeks to Adapt to America.” Many of these children are recent arrivals to the United States, and the idea of enrolling in schools is daunting, both academically and emotionally, even though they will be placed in English as a Learning Language programs in their new learning environment. It is very difficult for children to leave everything they know and be immediately thrust into an education system. The goal of the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, similar to many of the mentoring programs of LIRS and its affiliates, is to help smooth this transition into American life.
After their arrival in the United States, refugee children still have many more obstacles to overcome. However, through programs such as the Refugee Youth Summer Academy, refugee kids can be prepared to thrive in school. Because of their shared experiences, they are able to build skills and confidence together in a safe environment, and because of their cultural and linguistic diversity, they are able to learn from each other’s background while still valuing their own language and culture. In one example of how the academy encourages cross-cultural learning and interaction, one teacher has a rule that students must sit with someone from a different country who speaks a different language every day.
This type of learning is hard and slow-going, and for many students, the smallest of successes can be major breakthroughs. Semple recounts how one 10-year-old girl named Fatoumata was very shy in class, but “a pivotal moment came in the third week, when she mustered the courage to raise her hand and ask the teacher, in English, if she could use the bathroom. ‘It almost made me cry,’ recalled Barbara Cvenic, her assistant teacher. ‘This was a victory, having that confidence to ask for something you really need instead of being uncomfortable all day.’” Though these victories seem small, it is the accumulation of them that makes the Refugee Summer Youth Academy a success.
Volunteering as a refugee mentor through LIRS provides similar opportunities for individual victories that can have a big impact in the lives of both the refugee and the volunteer. The Be a Mentor video on our volunteering page is a great example of the mutual benefits and learning that can take place through mentoring.
You can sign up to be a volunteer here or learn more about Refugee Youth Summer Academy. Welcome starts with you – Stand for Welcome today!