Monday, September 1, 2008

By Luis K. Feliz

This summer Edgar Romero spear-headed an initiative under the auspices of our Phi Theta Kappa/ Alpha Theta Phi chapter to reach out to the children of refugee Afghan women. With the enthusiastic support of chapter members such as Andrea Torres, Geizel Amador, Sasheen Pottinger among others, our chapter started a Summer Camp in collaboration with the non-profit organization Women for Afghan Women (WAW), which works to empower Afghan women. While the WAW works to educate the women through ESL classes and human rights advocacy education, our chapter’s objective was to engage their children from 10 to 18 years old through sports—soccer, basketball, swimming; field trips to—the museum, the Zoo, the library. The activities were meant to bridge the cultural divide to ensure that the kids developed an appreciation of "American culture" while also educating them about the arts and sciences. In short, our ultimate goal was to start a dialogue between communities that seldom interact by breaking down the barriers that hinder such exchange in an effort to foster mutual understanding. Please take the time to read the snippets of volunteers and watch the slides show below.

Volunteers’ reflections:

June 28, 2008
Before getting to the center for Afghan Women, I was anxious to see the kids we would be working with. I did not know what to expect; I kept thinking to myself: “Do these kids speak English?” “Are they going to be open about our cultural differences?” When we finally went into the room, there were already a few kids there waiting for us while mothers walked in steadily. At first, I had apprehensions about the cultural differences, but as time went by, I felt welcomed; I felt no different. We even helped the mothers fill out some forms. Despite the fact that the women had difficulty understanding our instructions, they exuded warmth. Overall, it was a good day for the kids, us and the parents.

July 5, 2008
Saturday, we went to the museum today. At first, I thought it was a bad idea because it took us so long to get to the museum. At the museum, I felt overwhelmed because the kids were running around in the museum, so we decided to go to central park. When we got there, I was already exasperated because of an unbearable headache. In addition, the kids are pretty demanding—they want things to be done their way.

July 9, 2008
Today, we took the kids to Flushing Meadows Park to play soccer and basketball. As soon as we got there, the kids started organizing their teams into those who “suck” and those who were adept at playing basketball. During the soccer game, the kids on the losing team got frustrated because they were losing. Consequently, they kept blaming one another for faults on the field. But the truth of the matter was they had no organization. The losing team’s captain was not effective as a captain, failing to give his players any direction. But players thought the problem was the team, not the captain. To solve the problem, we switched the captains of the two teams.

July 21, 2008
The kids’ behavior is improving. From the first day we met them to now, the difference is simply beyond belief. Also, the cohesiveness of the group is continuously increasing not only among the kids themselves but also among the volunteers. We talk to the kids about the camp and activities as well as about their lives as Afghani immigrants in America. Every moment I share with these kids is simply unforgettable. They’ve become not only kids to me but also developing individuals. They each have their own personalities, but each one brings something different to every activity we do in the summer camp.

July 21, 2008
Today, we taught the kids about being environmentally friendly. We talked to them about how there is only one world, one earth. And if we are hoping for it to continue to exist, we have to start making changes. For example, in one section of the park, there was heap of garbage: cans, bottles, paper. Although it was not our mess, we all helped to pick up the garbage and disposed of it accordingly. The children helped and understood why we had to do it. They’ve also started to understand how important volunteering and reaching out to the community is. For instance, they thought we were getting paid for our time with them. Until, I told them that we were not. Then, they asked, “Why do it if you’re not getting paid?” I told them it’s always good to give back and help others.

July 23, 2008
Due to the weather, we stayed in with the kids today and watched movies. After they watched the movie, we quizzed them on the film. One of the movies was “Freedom Writers.” It was a great movie for the kids to watch because it showed them how people can effect change by making people aware.

*The program was nine weeks. It ended in August.

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