I have been wanting to get involved with some kind of volunteer work, and while I was initially looking for a women's shelter to volunteer with, I ended up volunteering with a Somali organization in the Seattle area. This organization has several tutoring programs that are set up with the local school district (not mine) and one of the programs is run thorugh an apartment complex that has a very large Somali population. As it turns out, this apartment is actually in MY school district, so several of the kids know me and I even have a few of them in my classes this year.
I was a little nervous going into this, since the thought of teaching AFTER a long day of teaching was a little daunting. But as it turns out, I absolutely love doing this. The kids that in my classroom are timid and demure are chatterboxes and stinkin' hilarious when you get them on their own turf. When I walked in last week, I was asked for help within 30 seconds. Unfortunately, it was with math, which is....an area of weakness for me, to put it mildly. But we figured it out together and I had so much fun that I ended up staying an extra half hour because I wasn't watching the time.
As part of my volunteer training, I learned some interesting things about Somalia. For example, did you know that the Somali language did not have a written version until 1972? And they haven't had a functional government since 1991. Education was mandatory to age 13 before 1991, but now only about 8% of kids go to elementary school and only 5% of kids go to school beyond that age. Can you imagine how hard it would be to go to school here in the US when you've never been to school at all in your own country? No wonder some of the kids we get struggle so much. In addition, 40% of the population of Somalia is dependent on external aid and Somalia is considered the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.
We aren't sure exactly how many Somalis are in this area, but Western Washington has the third largest Somali population in the United States, with an estimated population of between 40,000-70,000 in this area. Somalis are Muslim and fairly conservative, and the kids (especially the girls) are not allowed to stay after school for tutoring or whatnot, so they have a tutoring program in this apartment complex. There are 2 Somali men who run this program and they do the best they can, but there are between 40-50 kids that come and they all are there for help with their homework.
This is a population in our school that we have a tremendous amount of difficulty reaching. These are the parents we can't get hold of and the parents we literally cannot talk to because they don't speak English. Can you imagine how much of a difference it would make if those parents knew us BEFORE their kids reached high school? So right now, I am working on some fellow teachers to come with me and I am so excited to be doing this. So now you know where I'll be on Wednesday nights.....
By the way, I had to reinstall comment monitoring because I have been pretty seriously spammed over the past few weeks. I'll take it off again after a while, sorry!