I stepped into the cafeteria of an elementary school to be met with many excited tiny humans bursting through the doors from recess. The kids stream in and give my co-workers hugs and high- fives. They enthusiastically socialize with each other and enjoy their snacks before heading to our classroom to work on their homework.
This summer I am a youth program intern at Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), a nonprofit organization that serves and empowers low-income refugee and immigrant families in South Seattle by offering services that promote equity. ReWA provides a variety of youth programs both during the school year as well as during the summer. During the school year, we help students with after school homework help and youth development. In the summer, which the Seattle Public School system deems as late June, our youth development programs include fun, educational, and engaging activities, including project-based learning, robotic lessons, photography, cooking, and volunteering at the community food bank and garden.
Many of the students who participate in our after school programs are children of immigrant and refugee families primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Vietnam, or come from a low-income background in South Seattle. Although they each arrive from different contexts most ReWA youth experience racial inequality and Islamophobia. While we all remember that middle school is full of drama and gossip, our students are perceptive and outspoken against the class and racial inequalities that are present in their classrooms. While they may experience troubles in math, but they may also experience insensitivities towards their cultural practices, as well as disproportionate and unjust discipline from their teachers. They are students, but their lives are also inherently political. Despite the inequality they experience, the elementary and middle school aged kids I work with are silly, kind, clever, honest, dramatic, shy, wild, restless, loving, and everything in between. They are brilliant.
For many of our students, our youth programs act as safe spaces where they are surrounded by peers who may look like them or understand their experiences. Most importantly the programs are spaces where they can truly be kids. Our summer program this year is centered around the theme of food justice. The activities in the food bank and community garden are geared towards teaching our students about gardening with others in the neighborhood, food scarcity, sustainable food, food distribution, and the intersection between food and culture. In addition to having fun and learning about food justice, we hope that our students will learn about what it means to be a part of a community and give back to it; learn about the community they live in and the issues that they face; and learn about becoming a leader in their own way.
I love working at ReWA because I love these kids, and I am surrounded and inspired by the strong, supportive, and brilliant people of color in my community. True to ReWA’s mission, I hope my actions will promote equity, and encourage empowerment and leadership for the rest of my time here.
Lastly, please don’t walk away from this blog post with the belief that these immigrants and refugees, and particularly their children, are in need of saving. Instead, know that these students exist, they matter, they face great inequalities, and they are wildly strong and resilient.
Experiences like Katie’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.