My passion for working with refugees first developed in Portland, Oregon where I volunteered for two years as a Youth & Family Mentor with a Karen refugee family. I will be forever grateful for my experience with this family, as their spirit and resiliency inspired me to want to make a career out of assisting newly-arrived refugees.
As a way to begin exploring this new career path, I joined Coalition for Refugees from Burma as a VISTA in November 2014. As Youth Program Coordinator, I assist with most aspects of the organization’s Youth Programs for refugee youth – including volunteer recruitment, outreach, resource development, and program facilitation.
Most recently, I developed a large portion of the curriculum for CRB’s 5-week summer program for high school-aged refugee participants. Each of the five weeks was designed to identify a global challenge and explore ways students can work toward solving the challenge. The 47 student participants represented a large variety of cultural backgrounds, ages (grades 9-12), and English levels. This variety adds a wonderful array of diversity to the classroom, yet poses a challenge in developing curriculum that can sufficiently reach out to all participants. There is a constant need to find a balance in creating material that isn’t too difficult for the lower English-level students, yet challenges the higher-level students.
During the third week of the program, I gathered my notes after seeing what had and had not worked in the first two weeks to create a week of lessons, activities, and discussions based on environmental challenges. Students were exposed to two major environmental challenges (loss of biodiversity and pollution), and within the lesson learned a variety of vocabulary words to strengthen their understanding of the content.
After identifying various environmental challenges, students worked together to build models of parks that were eco-friendly and reflected the needs of their community. Emphasis was put on using recycled materials and sustainable design, while students also had to interview a community member to see what he or she most desired in a local park. The project offered an effective hands-on way for all students to synthesize the new content and vocabulary, and the results were extremely creative!
The week, and the entire summer program, was a huge success and proved that I am learning just as much as these students during my year as a VISTA. I have been able to build upon my previous international and cross-cultural experiences to further develop and fine-tune skills that will help me as I continue to pursue opportunities for assisting refugees. I look forward to what the remaining months as a VISTA, and the path beyond, have to offer!