Saturday, April 21, 2007

Yesterday's Refugee, Tomorrow's Architect

Friday, 4/20/07, the State Newspaper (of South Carolina) featured an article about the tutoring program with which I have been assisting. I am quoted several times in the article, and the article is built around an interview with Aden, the student I have tutored since January 2006. (Aden has shown up on my blog before: HERE and HERE.) It’s a pretty good article, and one of the main features on the Metro section of the paper.

The last week has been busy with arranging interviews and photographers, but obviously it all worked out. I went by Aden’s apartment yesterday afternoon to give him a copy of the article. He was pretty excited about it. And then I kicked his butt in Connect Four.


But I will just go ahead and paste the text here because the State archives their stories pretty quickly and you have to pay to access them:

Yesterday’s refugee, tomorrow’s architect

Meet 16-year-old Aden Mabruk.

He steals moments to play soccer on warm spring days.

He hates health class but excels in mathematics.

He travels the world of

And he’s filled with optimism, despite spending 12 years in Kenyan refugee camps with other Somali Bantu.

His drive to learn — something he didn’t always have — is part of what melts the hearts of volunteers in a University of South Carolina pilot program, who work weekly with Aden and other young Somali Bantu living in Hunter’s Way apartments in Columbia. At one time, there were about 30 children in the program, but nine since have moved.

Led by Doyle Stevick, an assistant professor in the College of Education and director of the Office of International and Comparative Education, the program uses future teachers to tutor Somali Bantu students.

It helps them understand refugee and immigrant students, he said.
“Principals often tell me that many teachers can’t relate to their students — (that) they can’t imagine how they live and think,” Stevick said.

Chris Reid, a librarian* at the Cooper Branch of the Richland County Public Library, works with Stevick to pair college students with children.

Reid tutors Aden, who used to bury his books underground to keep from studying when he was younger.

But today, the improvements he has made in his new country are remarkable, Reid said.

Sometimes he has to force Aden to be a child. Even on this day, Reid asked Aden if he’d rather play or study at the library.

“I’m going to go to the library,” he said before setting a soccer ball down and fetching his math book.

‘THEY FIND JOY IN SIMPLE THINGS’It was Stevick’s passionate plea before 100 students in a USC service-learning course that led a fourth of them to choose the Somali Bantu tutoring program over nearly 60 others.

Students in the program, launched in January, take at least one hour a week to tutor the children — of various ages in elementary, middle and high school — in their apartments or at the library.

Sometimes they tackle homework in English, math, health and other subjects. Other times, they play card games while drinking Tang.

The first days were intimidating, Stevick said.
“Walking into the apartment of a family who speak a different language, eat different food, practice a different religion and listen to different music can be like visiting a new country,” he said.

Tutors are quizzed on whether they are married, how to get girlfriends and what “crazy” music they like. All the while, the children smile, making the USC students think a little more about their own lives.

“They find joy in the simple things that we might take for granted,” said Dee Griffith, 21, a junior who tutors with fellow junior Adam Browder.

In the program, tutors see the impact learning has on the self-esteem of these children, some of whom can recall the horrors they’ve seen in their young lives.

“In the end, you’re hoping that what you gave them helps them to get somewhere,” said 21-year-old graduating senior Jordan Knight, who tutored an eighth- and first-grader.

Although they are inspired, Knight and others are also frustrated, saying their brief time with students is not always replicated in the public school system.
They said it is ill-prepared to work with students like the Somali Bantu, who arrived with few possessions and no English skills, but are placed in age-appropriate grades and expected to take standardized tests.

Although there are no statistics, Stevick said students tutored in the USC program are doing better in their classrooms.

He’d like to see the pilot program expanded beyond the apartment complex and into the homes of other refugees. Hunter’s Way — one of two main refugee settlements in the city — was chosen because Stevick and Reid both had prior connections with Bantu living there. More than 100 began arriving to Columbia in 2004, but about 40 now live at Hunter’s Way.

The program illustrates how helping others makes a community, Reid said.
“There’s so many ways you could spend your time (that are) ridiculous,” he said. “That’s why I really try and spend my time helping people.”**

Setting up tutoring for the adults could be next, he said.

Aden Mabruk, oldest of four siblings, said the tutoring is helping him build skills to aid others. He wants to return to Somalia when he’s older. And he wants to be an architect — “if I graduate,” he added.

When Reid hears Aden say “if,” he tells him with certainty, “You will.”

This is National Volunteer Week, a time agencies like Lutheran Family Services look to area residents to help those in need:
Somali Bantu: In addition to tutors from the University of South Carolina, some 100 people assist Lutheran Family Services in resettling refugees in the Columbia area and statewide, said area manager Bedrija Jazic.
Churches have been key contributors, Jazic said, including Greenhill Baptist Church in West Columbia, First Baptist Church in Columbia, and Friend Church in Irmo.
Get involved: If you want to help, contact the agency at (803) 750-9917.

*I am NOT a librarian. I WORK at a library. There’s a distinct difference.

** I didn't really mean for her to quote this statement. When I first read it, I thought this was bad quote, but when I thought about it, it really is a good representation of the kind of things I say. So there ya go.

1 comment:

Erica said...