Bridging the Language and Education Gap of Ann Arbor Area Refugees

Ways You Can Help Those Resettling from Afghanistan

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

With over 300 refugees resettled in Ann Arbor, many organizations have stepped up to offer much needed support with physical needs, however there is a gap when it comes to educational needs. 

Many are limited in speaking English and even Pashto. As a result, many of the students and adults are behind and having a hard time finding educational support. 

Two organizations at The University of Michigan saw this need and have since stepped up to bridge the gap in educational inequity.  End the Cycle (ETC, is focused on educational equity, with most services providing educational services to homeless students in Washtenaw county) and Michigan Refugee Assistance Program (MRAP, is focused on assisting refugees in Michigan) have joined forces to create English and American cultural lessons for the Afghan Refugees that have resettled in Ann Arbor and Oakland County.

Previously, ETC x MRAP worked with Global Detroit to make a Refugee and Immigrant Conversational English Program for South Asian women, and the feedback from this program was great. Women reported feeling more confident in their speaking skills. 

Previous Refugee and Immigrant Conversational Program run by End the Cycle and the Michigan Refugee Assistance Program that was run on zoom amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo courtesy of Rija Awan.

One tutor who worked in the program even said this, “The most touching impact for me was the emotional inspiration of these women.  After the tutors and tutees would return from their breakout rooms, the women shared their conversations to the class. Every week the response was electric, with woman after woman echoing their gratitude for being involved, personal milestones, adn deep reflections. I had never experienced a more heartwarming response on zoom. Moreover, the participants reported a greater sense of respect from their family members, greater confidence in communicating with neighbors and going into public spaces, and strong interest in finding a job that required English proficiency.” 

The goal of this new program is to assist both school aged students and adults with acclimating to American culture and academic assistance with catching up in school. 

“For the past month, through End the Cycle and MRAP’s volunteer base, I have gathered volunteers to work on creating these lessons. We are now starting the tutoring lessons on WhatsApp with the families. We chose WhatsApp specifically because it is the easiest form of communication for the refugees, and they are comfortable with it. We are in contact with around 40 refugee families (each family generally has 5+ members). We are also working with Oakland Schools to assist their district’s refugee students with these lessons as well,” Rija Awan (a junior at The University of Michigan studying neuroscience and education for empowerment) explained.

Awan stated, “What’s really amazing about this program is that it is run by college students from different majors and backgrounds who are coming together to serve a community need. These refugees are having a hard time finding educational resources that can work with their needs specifically, and that is exactly what this program is trying to do. Many programs focus on material support for refugees when they come to America, which is no doubt important, but many times refugee education and social support (like a weekly mentor who checks in on them) is forgotten — which is what this program is offering.”

“With this large increase in refugee families and students who need help catching up in Michigan, we also need more volunteers to assist in the project. Volunteers or potential partnering organizations can sign up on the End the Cycle Website at endthecycleatum.org,” said Awan.

She stated, “Looking forward, we are hoping to increase the number of volunteers who create educational lessons and tutors who can teach the lessons. We hope to continue these lessons in the summer, so that we can use that time to really work with the students to help them catch up to their respective grades/ be able to communicate efficiently in an English speaking community.”

For more information, visit: endthecycleatum.org or on Instagram  @endthecycleumich @mrapum