Over the last five years, Texas has resettled more refugees than any other state. Austin is home to approximately 12,000 refugees and growing. Upon resettlement, refugees face many challenges. For youth, academic success is particularly difficult, with a high school graduation rate of 19%. While all refugee youth face educational barriers, the situation is especially difficult for adolescent girls, many of whom have never had the opportunity to go to school. Living in families splintered by war, with parents/guardians with limited or no education, girls take on overwhelming responsibilities and are more isolated than their male counterparts. They become translators, caregivers, and financial contributors, all while trying to adjust and thrive in a new environment. GirlForward is the only program in Austin dedicated to supporting refugee girls. GirlForward programs use “GirlCentered Design,” which is based on research demonstrating what girls need to be empowered: friends, mentors and a safe space.
Camp GirlForward is an eight-week social justice based program. The curriculum is differentiated to reach each girl’s unique needs, whether she has been in the country for three weeks, three months, or three years. In 2016 Camp GirlForward Austin served 30 girls. The goals of Camp are increased English speaking, listening, reading and writing skills as well as increased confidence.
The community of Camp GirlForward stretches far beyond the eight weeks of instruction. Advocates for girls’ empowerment love to emphasize the multiplier effect of educating girls. Last year, the girls in the Austin pilot spent a day learning about interviews. They learned how to prepare, what to wear, and what kinds of questions to expect when applying for a job. That same week, one of the participants learned that her mother had a job interview. She Gentille sat with her mother and practiced interview questions, sharing everything she had learned at Camp. She came back to Camp a few days later ecstatic: her mother had been asked the questions they had practiced and was confident and well prepared. At GirlForward, this is the impact we see every day.