INSPIRED BY REFUGEE YOUTH
My name is Yuvraj Sethi. I'm a 13-year-old boy who is fortunate enough to have a good education and the means and resources to pursue my interests in music, sports and other extracurricular activities. During my summers, I have traveled to several countries, mostly in Europe; and through one trip to India, I realized that not everyone is as privileged as I am or as some of my friends are who live in the United States. There are millions of children who do not have access to clean drinking water, let alone good education or opportunities to gain skills that will help them to be successful in life. That particular trip to India left a deep impression and desire to help those who don’t have the opportunities that I have. I hoped to make a difference in someone’s life.
Like most children my age in the U.S., I grew up playing games on handheld devices and gaming systems, which led to my interest in learning how to program. I aspire to build games, use my creativity to work and build meaningful applications. Since sixth grade, I have immersed myself into building my programming skills and learning the Java language, hoping to incorporate my knowledge into something productive.
I joined a class to learn programming on the weekends, which cost a considerable amount of money. After taking the class for about six months, I had a decent understanding of the Python programming language. Python proved to be the foundation for my programming knowledge, as it helped me grasp Java too even though it is a much harder language. Unfortunately for many people, the ability to afford classes and attend every week isn't easy because of financial, safety, transportation or other barriers.
In the summer of 2016, I volunteered at PRERNA, a non-profit organization that provides essential services to refugees in the United States. As part of the “Mentor a Refugee” program, I was introduced to Mohammed Ferdaws, a 16-year-old refugee from Afghanistan. Mohammed had moved to the U.S six months ago and has been slowly adapting to his new environment — language, school, friends, and other aspects of building a new life. His parents and two siblings lived in a modest house in a rough neighborhood in California. When I met Mohammed, he could converse in English and was very open to learning and engaging with me. I had the opportunity to learn from him and appreciated his determination and strength to start a new life in a foreign country under difficult circumstances. I enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience, helping him build and learn new skills. Mohammed had no prior exposure to programming but had a strong desire and curiosity to learn. With my expertise in programming, I took the initiative of building a basic programming curriculum that laid the foundation for him. Perhaps this would help Mohammed make a career decision in the future.
Mohammed’s father and his two siblings spoke English, which made it easier for me to communicate and engage in conversations with the family when I visited their home. Programming is the last thought on a refugee family’s mind when they are thinking about survival and their well-being. Learning programming can help a refugee student immigrating into the U.S. be more competent and open up new opportunities. Online courses are often difficult to understand and most students prefer hands-on interactive courses. These classes are expensive; and in most low-income areas, high-quality education at an affordable price is difficult to find.
By working with Mohammed and getting to know his family, I understood the hardships that refugee families face to survive and how they work relentlessly to rebuild their lives. With all the hardships of a new place, with no job and limited resources, it made me think about the plight of these families who at times cannot even speak the English language. Yet, they come to the U.S., an unknown land, because they fear for their lives in their home country. We, as a community, should help them feel safe and provide the tools to help them become self-sustainable and independent. I'm very honored to be involved with PRERNA as all volunteers there work selflessly with the sole mission of empowering refugees.
Working with Mohammed and meeting his family was truly a life changing experience. Mohammed is a sharp student and learned the programming concepts quickly. We engaged over Skype and email as he continued to make progress. I hope to stay in touch with Mohammed and help him pursue his interest in software programming. My humble thanks to PRERNA for widening my view of the world and providing an opportunity to participate in this incredible mission and help make a difference in Mohammed’s life.
(NOTE: The writer’s blog was moderated by PRERNA and completed through the "Mentor a Refugee" program. Photo consent was received from the Ghiasi family.)