First Friday Update: Girlforward

The ‘First Friday Update’ of July highlights how GO Campaign is working to address the needs of adolescent refugee girls in Texas.

Imagine being a child living in a conflict zone or experiencing persecution. Your family makes the hard decision to leave everything behind because the situation at home has become too dangerous. You flee with only the items you can carry. After years of living in a refugee camp, your family is granted refugee status and relocated to Austin, Texas. Hopeful and scared at the same time, you begin your new life.

Over the last five years, Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state in the United States. They come without jobs or a place to live. The don’t know the language or how to get a job. The only thing they know is that they cannot go back. Child refugees often have the burden of being the ambassadors for their family. They have to learn the language and culture quickly so they can translate for their parents and help ease the entire family’s transition. GO Local Hero Blair Brettschneider is the Founder and Executive Director of GirlForward. Girlforward supports refugee girls as they adjust to their new life in America. They help girls learn English, return to school, and become comfortable in their new home.

In June 2017, GO Campaign partnered with Blair to expand GirlForward’s services to 45 adolescent refugee girls. Because of GO’s support, girls had a safe space to explore their identities, connect with other girls, and access community resources. The curriculum included tutoring and monthly workshops on a variety of topics. The program took place at International High School in Austin. The girls arrived in the classroom at 4:30 p.m. and they worked with a tutor proficient in a subject area they needed to focus on. If they finished their homework early, they practiced their conversational English with their tutor; the session ended by 6:15 p.m.

Though developed for the main purpose of providing learning support for girls so they can adjust to the American school system, the classroom became the community gathering space for the GirlForward girls at International High School. At the end of the pilot program, the feedback from the girls was overwhelmingly positive. The girls praised the program for supporting them academically and helping them feel more confident about their classes and assignments. They are performing at grade-level, college-bound, and working hard to realize the American dream.

Meet Storai
Storai is an eighteen-year-old rising junior who will be attending Travis High School in the fall of 2018. She is from Afghanistan and loves to write and draw. Although shy, she carries with her an abundance of wisdom and life experience; and when she does share her story in front of people, she exudes a powerful presence.

Before GirlForward tutoring, there wasn’t a space at International High School where the Afghan GirlForward girls could gather and spend time with each other. And being very shy and quiet, she didn’t have a lot of opportunities to improve her English outside of the classroom. When Storai began working regularly with her tutor, Sahib, Storai started to open up. During one tutoring session, after Storai had finished her assignment, she shared with a couple of the tutors some very personal drawings and writings about her life in Afghanistan, and how scary it used to be for her and her family. When she shared her story, the tutors were both moved by those harrowing experiences and inspired by her incredible resilience. Storai opening up like that–and doing so in English–was something that she would never have done less than a year ago when she was introduced to GirlForward. Because she received such strong support from the tutors who affirmed her and recognized her inherent power, she gradually built up her confidence over the course of several months. By the time she “graduated” from International High School to transition to Travis High School, she felt confident enough to write and deliver a speech in front of the entire IHS staff, and bravely shared with them her incredible story of life in Afghanistan and resettlement in the United States.

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