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Buffalo Beginnings Gives Refugee Children Strong Start

Buffalo Beginnings Gives Refugee Children Strong Start

Posted: August 29, 2017

When refugee families settle on Buffalo’s West Side, they have multiple tasks ahead of them—where to find work and permanent housing, how to open a bank account, and possibly find a physician or childcare.

Buffalo State helps them with one of the most important tasks—preparing their children to enter public school in the fall. Through the free Buffalo Beginnings summer program at the college’s Community Academic Center (CAC), young refugees learn literacy and academic lessons in morning sessions taught by Buffalo State students.

Twenty-four neighborhood children, ages 4 to 18, participated in the 2017 program that wrapped up August 4. They hailed from conflict-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Bhutan, and Somalia, among others.

Half of the students have been in the United States less than one month, said Win Min Thant, CAC education coordinator.

“We work on their literacy skills, but also their social skills and helping them acclimate to a foreign setting,” Thant said. “Most of these kids have never attended a formal school before. Their schooling was often interrupted. Our goal is to get them familiar with the school environment while also improving their reading and writing.”

Kang Guot, who graduated from Buffalo State in May and is serving as an AmeriCorps ABLE fellow, is committed to getting the children ready for school. On a recent morning during the summer session, he stood at a chalkboard mapping out algebraic equations for a small clutch of teens. He speaks multiple languages and understands the teens’ reality, having spent much of his childhood in South Sudan before moving to Syracuse, New York, in 2004. 

His experience with Buffalo Beginnings, along with a tutoring stint at Lafayette High School, inspired Guot to pursue a career in education.

“I learn more when I teach others,” Guot said.

Likewise, Monet Lewis, a creative studies graduate student and another ABLE fellow, said introducing the refugee children to American life and the English language helped hone her own communication skills.

“I know I want to work for a nonprofit organization,” Lewis said. “I want to help the community.”

Along with the weekly academic work, Thant and the volunteers took the participants on field trips to introduce them to Western New York gems including Niagara Falls, the Tifft Nature Preserve, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

“We also toured the neighborhood around the CAC, giving the children hands-on experiences,” she said. “For instance, we took them to a grocery market and encouraged them to touch the fruits and vegetables while we talked about their colors and the food pyramid.”

Since its inception in 2012, Buffalo Beginnings has served more than 200 refugee youth.

Read more: "Buffalo State Community Academic Center Offers Enrichment Programs for Refugee Youth," Karibu News, August 1, 2017. 

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