By Michaela Coughlin
Edited by Lauren Quirici
I began volunteering on Sundays for Mentors Without Borders, a Somali partnership program based on tutoring Somali refugees in Springfield, after one of my professors mentioned that she was offering extra credit to students who participated. After my first tutoring session, I was hooked. I’ve gone to Springfield to help every weekend since.
Before becoming involved with this program, I had never been exposed to Somali culture or the Somali language, nor had I worked with or even met a Somalian refugee. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I would be a long-term tutor, but I’ve become attached to the students and personally invested in the project’s success. I am working with Uzma Hussain this semester, one of the original developers of the project.
When I started working on this project in early September, my primary goal was to create structured and independent lesson plans for the children, teenagers, and adults who attend the tutoring sessions, as well as to improve the consistency of our students’ attendance. Mid-way through the semester, transportation—a perpetual struggle for our program—became critical, so my goal for the rest of the semester is to organize a safe, reliable, and sustainable method of transportation to get our students to our program’s Sunday location.
I see progress every day. Students are eager to learn and work very hard for the entirety of our three-hour tutoring sessions. In addition to our students, our community partner, the East African Cultural Center, led by Bledel Omar, is dedicated to serving the community. The East African Cultural Center has been very supportive and open-minded about all of our ideas and suggestions. In addition to Bledel Omar, Uzma and I are lucky to have Professor Elliot Fratkin from Smith College. Professor Fratkin has been incredibly committed to supporting the program and has helped from working through transportation and communication problems to spending his Sundays tutoring with us in Springfield.
We have encountered many obstacles this semester. Some of these challenges were expected, but many were not. Thankfully, we have the support of Alan Bloomgarden as well as the rest of the staff in the CBL office.
As a CBL fellow managing a still-developing program, I have learned leadership skills, patience, and cultural sensitivity. I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to providing our students with quality and effective tutoring, and I take great pride when I see their achievements.