Knowledge Is Power

Alexandra reminiscing about teaching

Day 3. I had no idea what to expect driving up to the Refugee Empowerment Program since I had never interacted with refugees before. My experience tonight was different from the

Alexandra reminiscing about teaching

Alexandra reminiscing about teaching

previous two odysseys because I was able to directly interact with the members of the program. After I walked through the door, I was immediately surrounded by a ton of loud and talkative children and teenagers, both participants and volunteers alike. I was very impressed to learn that hundreds of people volunteer with REP each year! Soon enough, I was sent upstairs to the Level I Adult ESL night class. Because of the rain and evening time, there were only three refugees in attendance, but I felt that was a great number because it gave the volunteers more time with each student. The small, carpeted classroom was decorated similarly to a kindergarten class with brightly animated posters of the alphabet, shapes, and colors. It wasn’t until I saw the simple worksheet explaining the letter “J” did I realize that these people did not have even a basic understanding of the English language. They came to a foreign country seeking asylum without knowing the native dialect and my heart immediately went out to them. I imagined myself moving to a country with a foreign language and not being able to effectively communicate with the locals. It would be extremely frustrating to say the very least.

Liz Jarvis, REP's Youth Outreach Specialist

Liz Jarvis, REP’s Youth Outreach Specialist

When the class started, we each stood up and stated our names and countries of origin. We then reviewed the sounds of 20 previously learned alphabet letters and tried to think of words that started with each letter. That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t like my high school French class at all. I was taught French in my native language, while the participants in this class are being taught in the same language they are trying to learn! It was fun at times to see how explaining the meanings of words turned into a game of charades. (As we get older, our education absorption slows down and we may lose vital learning tools such as our hearing.) I was so impressed and proud of how determined these three people were to obtain a solid grasp of English.

We also studied the most commonly used colors and shapes such as “red” and “triangle.” Do you remember drawing a heart for the first time? I was able to witness that tonight. My favorite part of the class was the one on one tutoring session. There were three volunteers in attendance so we were able to personally work with each student to teach them how to read words starting with the letter “J”. I had previously taught at the collegiate level, but this experience was completely different. I felt so privileged to help my partner read “Jack and Jen jump and jog.” After finishing a few more sentences, she portrayed a sense of accomplishment by smiling victoriously and I was so happy to be able to share that with her.

In 2002, a Sudanese refugee realized that other refugees in her community were having similar struggles as she was adjusting to American culture, so she decided to take matters into her own hands by starting a program to help 12 refugee children finish their homework. The program soon became the Refugee Empowerment Program (REP) and has helped more

Learning to write the letter "J"

Learning to write the letter “J”

than 400 refugees of diverse backgrounds and nationalities of all ages become better acclimated to the United States of America. After evaluating the needs and concerns of the participants, REP offers them three outstanding programs, beginning with an after-school program that helps tutor students in any areas they may be struggling and also offers computer and internet access. The Summer Enrichment Program sharpens students’ math and English skills for eight weeks during the summer while school is out. Lastly, REP offers adult ESL classes twice daily, four times a week. There are three different levels for the English language course and also a pre-GED course is offered. In 2007, REP also became part of the Memphis Leadership Foundation and now offers leadership programs as well.

After volunteering at REP, I realized how much I take for granted in life. Being surrounded by people who were starting over from scratch much later in their lives, I can’t help but feel a mix of emotions from sadness to inspiration and hope. These people are so amazing, and even though we are teaching them the elemental aspects of our language, we can all definitely learn a thing or two from them. To learn more about the Refugee Empowerment Program, visit www.repmemphis.org. Stay tuned for Day 4!

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in writing, event planning, communications, or teaching. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or aesamsell@gmail.com.

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Ready, Set, ACT!

my motivational speaker

Happy Friday, Internet friends!

Today’s volunteerism is brought to you by the letter R. And E. And P. OK, today’s lesson is brought to you by the letters REP – Refugee Empowerment Program. REP is an awesome program that helps 200-400 refugees annually across age groups. A major focus of the program is continuing education including after school enrichment, adult ESL classes and a summer educational program.

REPresent! Get it?

REPresent! Get it?

I was actually asked to give some words of encouragement to some seniors that were taking the ACT exam the next day. OY. What was I going to tell these kids? I remember taking the ACT but English is my first language. My next thought was candy. Candy makes everything better, right? OK! I’ll make little goody bags! Smarties, for obvious reasons, peppermints help to trigger good vibes in the old noggin and a little good luck index card. At least that’s a start, right? Still struggling with coming up with compelling words of wisdom I decided that I would offer three simple pieces of advice:

1) Get plenty of sleep!

2) Eat breakfast!

3) Trust yourself. You know more than you think you know.

I figured those were solid pearls of wisdom. If nothing else, keep it short and sweet would help them to relax instead of freaking them out more. So, instead of me grandstanding, I was simply going to instead try and talk to each kid about what they’ve been struggling with and offer suggestions to help. If worse comes to worse, the candy will do the talking, right?

my motivational speaker

my motivational speaker

So i’m parked outside of REP nervous as can be and there is no one here. I checked all the doors, no one is home. I tried calling the contact number I had, it goes to voicemail. Hmmm. This is weird. I hung out for another 15 minutes or so, then I texted Sarah letting her know what was going on. Definitely not helping my nerves! Luckily a bus finally pulls up and a bunch of kiddos pile out – both Moonas, Ahmed, Serfa, and Nahmin. A woman named Ashley, one of the regular volunteers, and was in charge of wrangling the kids up after school and bringing them to REP. The delay was because of an after-school Student Council meeting.  No sweat, lets get down to business!

Only three of the students were seniors taking the ACT on Saturday. Oh, I thought to myself, this was much chiller. I had visions of me standing up on stage with 25 kids in front of me expecting a song and dance. Thankfully none of the above was required! If you were at my Bat Mitzvah you’d be agreeing, my singing didn’t do anyone any favors!

We all ended up just gathering around a table and talking. First there were jokes, of course, and the need for immediate candy gratification. After the dust settled, we had a great conversation about the test. First, we discussed what the test meant to them. All the students are first generation immigrants. Being able to do well on the ACT was certainly a great credential to possess. I was trying to balance a difficult line of stressing the importance of doing well while keeping the test in perspective. A bad score does not equate to a bad life. In no way, shape, or form should this test shape their plans. I think (and hope) that this resonated with them. I shared my mom’s story with them. She never graduated high school, was able to get a nursing degree, work internationally and start her own business in the States. Although she was in France and this was 50 years ago, life provides many paths to success. Funny that I am learning that same lesson now.

From there I sat one on one with each student and asked about their practice exams and how they went. For Moona, she becomes disinterested in the readings then doesn’t do well on the analytical questions. We tried working on reading the questions first and then reading the passages. That way she can really be reading for answers that are already keyed into her mind. Nahmin was worried about time. When I asked how long he took on each question he said “too long” so my suggestion was to move to the questions he knows he can do quickly and then circle back. At least this way, his probable percentage of correct answers has a chance to be relatively high in comparison to questions answered.

Since our time was somewhat shortened, we didn’t get to do much tutoring. I hope I can go back next week and continue talking to the students and hearing their stories. They are all amazing. Although I was supposed to be coming in to give them words of encouragement, I think the roles were reversed. It would be impossible not to be impressed and motivated by these students. They have had, and will have, experiences unbeknownst and unparalleled to any of my own. They continue to want to do well for themselves and organizations like REP can enable them to do so.

I don’t think I could ask for a better Friday.

Catch you on the next safari stop.

Love,

Ari

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job in community outreach or partnerships position at a non-profit organization. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com.
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Educate. Encourage. Equip.

Educating, Encouraging, Equipping

Today, I learned it is okay to admit and ask for help. When I arrived at Refugee Empowerment Program (R.E.P.) I was immediately able to talk to another volunteer about his experiences volunteering with R.E.P. It was lovely to meet and connect with someone who is till new to volunteering at R.E.P.  I asked him what the experience has taught him thus far. His reply, “A huge appreciation for teachers. They work hard and are devoted to their students.”

Working hard on fractions!

Working hard on fractions!

Moments later we were greeted by Jules, one of the staff at R.E.P. He gave us a big smile and guided us inside the facility. The room was quite big and had several long tables and chairs. It was set up very much like a classroom, just larger. Other than a few volunteers, the room was empty; the children were on their way. I had no idea what to expect from this experience. Quickly, kids started filing in the room.  Before I knew it, the room was filled with children of all ages working hard on their homework.

I was joined at my table by a couple of girls in the 2nd and 3rd grade. They came over to me with huge smiles and asked if I could help them. We worked on several different subjects: English, Math, and even the Bible. It was fun to be able to teach them tricks I was taught when I was their age, to help them remember what they were learning.  The kids were eager to learn and were such hard workers; they did not stop until they were done. We made time for fun and lots of laughter along the way. Soon, the girls were finished and asked to go read. Moments later, two young boys approached the table I was sitting at, and asked for help with their Math homework. Math was always my favorite. I did not realize how much I had forgotten since grade school; I did not understand some of their assignments. It was difficult to admit to the boys that I was unsure of how to help them.

Rules of R.E.P.

Rules of R.E.P.

This experience showed me that I am allowed to admit I need help. These children were very quick to ask for help and say when they did not understand something. I often get caught up in making it seem like I have got it under control and that I do not need help. I am thankful for the children at R.E.P. who taught me how to remain humble and ask for help when I need it. I thought I was there to teach them something; they taught something much bigger in return.

Thank you for reading! I’m searching for a job as an educator to children and adults with special needs. If you know of a great fit, please send it our way: Mail to jobleads@volunteerodyssey.com or Leweaver0428@gmail.com

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If you like our work, please consider making a contribution to keep it going!

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