In high school I discovered I had an academic passion for studying the movement, politics, and psychological effects of refugees and refugee status. My senior year research project enabled me to expand on this passion in depth. However, despite my days of research I had never worked with anyone experiencing what it was to be a refugee, what had so captivated me. Coming to JHU, I knew working with refugees was a top priority but I never imagined I would find such a well organized and established program, run by my peers who shared my passions.
Hopkins has a club titled the Refugee Action Project (RAP). We tutor refugees twice a week from Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Eritrea, Nepal, and the Kingdom of Bhutan who have been located to Baltimore and joined an afterschool program called Refugee Youth Program (RYP). At JHU we do an annual clothing drive to bring coats and winter items to the refugees, hold awareness talks, host guest lectures and show documentaries to educate the Hopkins community about refugees who not only live in distant countries but also in Baltimore’s neighborhoods. My favorite aspect of the group is volunteering with the refugee students through RYP.
RYP is an after-school program focused both on homework and English language education for children ages six to fourteen. At first I went for a few focused reasons: the kids and the energy they have, my interest in working with refugees, and because community service is essential to the rhythm of my week. But as time passed with the program other reasons surfaced as well.
I always cared about the students academic growth but with each visit my investment deepen; I arrived hoping this one specific girl would properly master using are versus is or this boy would conquer long division. But it is not only their minds that are stretched every week; I get a mental workout as well. Every RYP student comes with their own talents, academic struggles, language skills, and personality. This demands flexibility and transfiguration on our parts as tutors to persistently adapt our teaching method so as best to teach each student.
Over the course of my visits, my attachment to the full time volunteers, workers, and fellow student tutors who passionately try to help these refugee children excel in the American public education system grew in leaps and bounds, as did my respect for their work. While tutoring, we fight to balance English language acquisition with the classroom work assigned by their teachers. I have found this to be the most frustrating component because to truly teach the math skill necessary to do their probability homework that night we forgo an English lesson on when to use would, could, or should. The van buzzes on the drive back with a discussion on different students, their progress and their silly antics.