Interviewing the Founder of the Refugee Acculturation Program
By Anthony Lee
Hello, Preeti! How are you today?
I’m doing well! How about you?
I’m doing great! So, tell me: what is the Refugee Acculturation Program, and what are your goals through the organization? The club may not be as widely known or seeked out as Science Olympiad or Envirothon, but I have heard it is unique and impactful in its own respect.
South Philadelphia alone is home to more than 3,000 Bhutanese refugees. These people of Nepali ethnic origin faced religious and cultural persecution in Bhutan under a “One Nation One People” Policy; some were jailed while many were alienated, forcing them to flee their homeland. Many Bhutanese refugees fled and sought refuge in the land of opportunity, the U.S., but the challenges of resettlement and acclimation lie ahead of them. Most prevalent is the disadvantage that Bhutanese refugee children have in English language abilities, which is attributed to poor infrastructure in the city schools they attend, lack of one-on-one attention, and the fact that many of their parents cannot speak English fluently. Every Saturday, we conduct tutoring sessions for these kids, helping them gain proficiency in the English language and for some, teaching them how to read. Some kids are so young - three years of age - so, we give them a comfortable space to learn. We teach grammar, writing, speaking skills, and we even work one-on-one with some of these kids on math and subjects they struggle with in school. They don’t have access to tutoring resources, so that’s why we are there for them. That’s why we work with the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia (BAOP) to do what we do.
How do you help refugees in the U.S. acclimate to life and culture? Apart from mentorship, what are your objectives in RAP?
Along with educational empowerment, part of our mission is also raising awareness for refugees. What we are looking to do in the near future is host a guest speaker, an expert in the fields of refugee health and education, to talk to CSW students about the issues faced by refugees. Also, a new and signature addition to our Saturday tutoring sessions is cultural bonding activities. Basically, we create a safe space for cultural exchange and indulge in Nepali language, dance, music and culture. We do this by putting a cultural twist on fun games like Hang-Man and Follow the Leader, and these activities have brought our two groups much closer together.
How have you grown and benefited personally from volunteering with Bhutanese refugees?
So, I had started volunteering with the Bhutanese refugee community last year along with medical residents in Philly who hosted ELA classes at the community center. At that time, I had met a young girl named Jashna. She loved dancing to Nepali hymns, and she would seize every opportunity to read books. Reading was her window into the world. Through the year, I spent time teaching and helping her read more fluently. When I visited the center for the first time this school year to launch the new tutoring program- on Diwali, the festival of lights, coincidentally - I saw her rehearsing a Nepali group dance for the festival. After practice, Jashna ran up to me and gave me a warm hug. Personally, I felt that was a symbol of compassion and I can never forget the friendships I have forged through volunteering at BAO-P. Through my experiences working with the Bhutanese children, I have been sensitized to the challenges faced by refugee children, and I realized the need to empathize with their life stories to build that special connection.
In your opinion, why should Charter students join, support, volunteer for, and be actively involved in RAP?
The Refugee Acculturation Program is a platform for Charter students to take part in community outreach, teach small children, connect with refugee populations, and explore the cultural influences of the people in Philadelphia. I started this club to offer my peers at Charter a unique opportunity to embrace diversity and explore the rich cultural backgrounds in our society. Also, volunteering with RAP is a great way to gain volunteer hours!
Volunteer hours - always a great opportunity. Thank you for your time, Preeti! I look forward to hearing about you and RAP’s accomplishments very soon!