By SABRINA CHEN
For The News-Letter
The Refugee Action Project (RAP), a Hopkins student organization that mentors children who have recently immigrated to Baltimore, is renewing its efforts this year in light of the growing refugee crisis.
Senior Lauren Abrahams, RAP co-president, said the purpose of the program is to ease students’ transitions from their previous homes to their new home in Baltimore. She mentioned one student in particular who she was able to help.
Nine months ago a young girl moved with her family from Iraq and didn’t speak a single word of English. According to Abrahams, she was shy, reserved and always sat by herself. But under Abrahams’ mentorship, by the end of the year, she spoke perfect English and was always surrounded by a group of friends.
“It was very moving to see that transformation process. I got to witness this incredible transition in comfort with the English language and making friends and every other aspect of assimilation,” Abrahams said.
The main focus of the group is to provide students volunteers for the Refugee Youth Project, run by Baltimore Community College and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The project is a tutoring and mentorship program for refugees aged from four to 13 who recently resettled in Baltimore.
The program is headquartered at Moravia Park Elementary School. The refugee students are bussed in from a variety of elementary and middle schools. Abrahams said that there are about 35 members of the club who work with students every week on Tuesday or Wednesday from 3 to 6:15 p.m.
“Every volunteer has to go through a special ESL refugee mentoring training program before being able to work with the students. The volunteer coordinator for the Refugee Youth Project comes to our campus and works with our volunteers to prepare them for working with students, many of whom don’t speak English,” Abrahams said.
There are 65 refugee students in the program this year, but most of the time volunteers end up working with the same students on a weekly basis. She explained the importance of the mentorship program.
“The Refugee Youth Project is run by two people. But with 65 students, a small volunteer to student ratio is absolutely imperative to the success of the program. With every student speaking a different language and having different skill levels, having one teacher in front of the classroom is ineffective. Volunteering is a way for Hopkins kids to really make a difference,” she said.
Abrahams described working with the students as a rewarding experience.
“You get to see this incredible transformation over the course of one year,” she said.
RAP Vice President and Outreach Chair Naomi Bouchard, a senior, echoed Abrahams’ sentiments. Bouchard found the school year volunteer program so gratifying that she applied for an internship at the IRC during the summer.
“It was really awesome to work with the kids in the school environment and have that one on one connection and then later that summer actually meet the families and go to visit a lot of the homes and to see this whole other side. I didn’t even know that this whole population was in Baltimore and that was really eye-opening,” Bouchard said.
She said that over the course of the summer she was able to forge relationships with students and families.
“The families only know the area where they live, and it’s hard for them to explore the city. I decided to bring them to Hopkins and walk around the campus and go in all the buildings. It was fun for them to see it all because they hear about Hopkins but it’s just like this mysterious entity to them,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard also said that listening to the stories of the refugee families was a highlight of her internship.
“These people, they are so open, and a lot of them freely tell you their stories and where they come from and the struggles they’ve undergone. It’s very humbling and inspiring at the same time,” she said.
Bouchard said that as RAP outreach chair she is excited to focus on making the Hopkins community aware of the ongoing refugee crisis and the refugee population in Baltimore.
Abrahams hopes the club can be not only a mentorship program for refugee students but also an advocacy group for refugees in general.
Both Bouchard and Abrahams said that they are hoping to have members of IRC come to Hopkins to talk about their experiences. Through these events, they hope to make Hopkins students more aware of the situation.
“People should come to our events and support us and use that as an opportunity to learn more about the city they are in. It’s so easy to stay in the Hopkins bubble, but this is a really great way to get engaged with the community,” Bouchard said.