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Over $600K given to boost schooling of refugee students

In-home tutors working with refugee students. (Photo by Mona Han)

“I needed to be with my children,” said a Somali refugee who fled to Seattle in 2010. “They are my responsibility.”

His children were almost 9,000 miles away, living on the border of Kenya. They arrived three years later after their father sponsored their trip.

To protect his remaining relatives in Somalia, this man wished to remain anonymous.

“Refugees feel that in a country like America you should feel safe, but they still worry that the safety of their families back home may be in jeopardy if anything about them is visible or published,” said Mona Han, executive director of the Coalition for Refugees from Burma, a nonprofit organization focused on providing social support services to improve living conditions and quality of life for refugees resettling in Washington state.

Each year, nearly one million Somalis are displaced. Seeking a new life free from persecution, violence, and conflict, 2,483 documented refugees have settled in Washington state.  

Terrorism in Somalia

Located in the Horn of Africa, Somalia suffers from an ineffective government, famine, disease, and militant extremism. The country is considered to be one of the most dangerous and failed states in the world, according to the annual ranking by Foreign Policy and The Global Fund For Peace.

The country remains fragile with increasing warlords and constant attacks from the Al Shabab terrorist group. Just three years ago they had stormed Villa Somalia, the official residential palace and principal workplace of the President of Somalia, on a mission to kill or capture the president during Friday prayer.

Although they failed to get the president, they managed to shoot Mohamud Indhacase, secretary to the office of the prime minister, and 60 others. Indhacase’s longstanding goal was to help improve the quality of life in Somalia ever since the end of their longest-running civil war in 2012.

“In Somalia life was becoming no good,” the Somalis refugee said. “Coming to America was a dream come true.”

With help from the Coalition, the Somali refugee, along with his two children, ages nine and ten, were able to make a peaceful transition into American society and the public school system.

“They (The Coalition) are really good,” he said. “My children can now read and write. I encourage everyone in my neighborhood to join."

Refugee graduation rates on the rise

For the past eight years, Washington state has been the recipient of the Federal Refugee Impact Grant. This year, the state received $624,602 to help refugee students integrate into the public school system and raise English proficiency rates

In partnership with the Seattle School District, the Coalition uses grant money to setup after school activities to help boost reading comprehension and writing skills. One of those programs includes an in-home tutoring program for students in grades K-12.

“It’s really about helping students navigate the school system, something community based organizations aim to do,” said Kai-Chin Chan, student and family advocate for the Seattle School District.

The Somali refugee’s children are among many who participate in the tutoring sessions. Before coming to Seattle the kids had no prior schooling. Now, once a week for an hour and a half his two children meet with a high school tutor to advance their reading and writing skills.

“They read books of their choosing and we have lesson plans based on those readings,” said Han. “They are able to comprehend and write up reflections on what they have learned and discuss them. These are the type of education skills we take for granted in America.”

Tutors also developed the High School Proficiency Exam Preparation Program to increase the number of students who pass the state’s standardized tests. A lot of the students who had participated in these after school activities went on to graduate high school. In the Kent School District, there were over 18 refugee students who graduated, according to Han.

“They (The Coalition) have been so giving and helpful,” the Somali refugee said. “I am very happy.”

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