TUTORS Helps Refugees Transition

by Erica Mundell
Staff Writer

As a young immigrant coming to America, first-year Viktoria Safarian knows the difficulties of adjusting to a new culture.

“I know how it is,” she said. “The kids are not always the nicest or most accepting, and it is hard to get used to the environment, as well as learn all new things.”

Because of that personal experience, Safarian has started a tutoring program to help refugee children in Lexington bridge the gap between their own culture and the new culture in which they live.

TUTORS member first-year Jim Price plays foosball with one of the participating students, who halls from Mexico.Transylvania University Teaching Outreach for Refugee Students, or TUTORS, meets twice a week at Tates Creek Middle School to help with the after-school enrichment program for refugee children. There, they contribute to a relaxed environment where they tutor the refugee students in their homework and work on creative, themed projects.

“We always try to have a theme for the afternoon,” said Safarian. “For Valentine’s Day, we made cards.”

One Sunday, the group hosted an event in the William T. Young Campus Center. The young students and their Transy tutors met in the game room to play ping-pong, watch a movie and eat snacks. The group is also planning a trip to Newport Aquarium and a free lesson in capoira, the Brazilian martial arts.

The refugee population in Lexington is actually quite large. Kentucky Refugee Ministries is the refugee resettlement office in Kentucky, sponsored by The Episcopal Migration Ministries and Church World Service. They are authorized by the Department of State to help refugees legally admitted into the United States. Their main office is stationed in Louisville, with a smaller branch here in Lexington.

“Officially, our charter states that we are to provide for the needs of refugee children in Sudan, but it needs to be updated. The refugees come from all over the world: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Iraq, Honduras, Sudan and Mexico, just to name a few,” said Safarian.

The faculty mentor for the Anthropology Club, Dr. Barbara LoMonaco, pointed Safarian in the right direction for the founding of this group.

“Dr. LoMonaco works a lot with the refugee population and told us that there was a huge gap in the enrichment provided to these children and what they actually need,” said Safarian. “They’ve been in the country for less than a year and have none or interrupted schooling. A lot of that schooling is different from what is taught here too, and that makes it even more difficult for them to catch up.”

Since to the refugee children have had experiences similar to Safarian’s, she said she considered it her duty to help fill in the gap. It was also part of the commitment she made at the recent Clinton Global Initiative-University conference designed to empower university students to help make changes in their local and global communities.

“I think it is very important for people our age to give back. This is my way of doing so, and I’m very excited that it is actually happening,” said Safarian.

TUTORS is also working with the Lost Boys of Sudan, which made a documentary to help raise awareness about the education system in Sudan and help to improve it. Safarian hopes to help this group push awareness of this problem and raise money.

TUTORS is still looking for more volunteers.

“We are always open to suggestion and are hopefully looking to expand to an international level, said Safarian. If you are interested in joining TUTORS, contact Viktoria Safarian at vxsafarian12@transy.edu.


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