Methma is a Volunteer Representative for Swearer Tutoring and Enrichment in Math and Sciences (STEMS). As a VR, Methma helps plan weekly meetings for the tutors, which are intended to provide Brown tutors with tools to work more effectively, through tutoring skills, knowledge of current education policy, discussions on the role of a tutor in a classroom, or information about the Providence Public School system. She is currently tutoring in a physics class.
Based on Love
Sara is one of six student coordinators of Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment, a refugee tutoring program that matches Brown students with refugee students in Providence. She has worked with BRYTE as a tutor for four years. This was her second semester as a coordinator.
BRYTE is a service model based on love. It asks: what happens when you pair a college student with a recently arrived refugee—ask them to become a tutor, to commit to three hours a week, every week, in the tutee’s home, for at least one year? What would it do for the tutee? What would it do for the tutor? It does not require love, but more often than not, love is what forms.
BRYTE has a leadership structure based on love. Our coordinating contract reads “Be open and clear about needed personal and organizational support from fellow Coordinators.” We sign our emails “with love;” end our meetings with hugs. The six of us hold equal weight in all organization decisions. We spend an average of five hours a week in each other’s company, in between communicating constantly over email and group text. During one especially rough BRYTE week in November, three of us cried in the Rock lobby; the other three rubbed our backs. We love each other and we love the work we do. It is not possible to do it any other way.
On November 1st, at BRYTE Halloween, Aisha* sat by herself and waited for her siblings to arrive. “They’re at K-mart” she told me. I coaxed her to the mummy wrap game, tried to inspire pumpkin painting, offered extra m&ms for participation in the cookie-face contest.
When Aisha’s sister and her sister’s tutor arrived, they told stories of a new TV that arrived broken in the box, purchased with $600 saved carefully over months and months—a dollar here, a few dollars there—by Aisha’s mother, Bina. Through gritted teeth the sister and tutor recounted the past hour and a half spent trying to exchange it at the store. The tutor acted as interpreter—not translating between Swahili and English (she doesn't speak Swahili) but between white privilege and black poverty. “Bina was standing right there,” said the tutor after the event ended. “And the clerk only talked to me.”
When I got home from Halloween I took a nap, dreaming of candy and broken televisions, picturing Aisha’s withdrawn face and her former tutor Vera, a close friend of mine, who graduated last spring and moved to Paris.
There are times, as a coordinator, when I am reminded of the overwhelming structural barriers facing newly arrived refugee families: When I hear of a teenage tutee waking up at six in the morning to get her siblings ready for school or a ten year-old filling out SNAP benefit forms. When BRYTE families relocate to Ohio or Kansas in pursuit of higher quality of life.
As community events coordinator, I spent a lot of my time with BRYTE this year organizing a park day, Halloween party, and Thanksgiving potluck. It often felt crazy to glimpse structural poverty and spend twenty-five hours planning cupcake decorating and pumpkin painting in response. I am sure that on November 1, Aisha needed more than cookie-face contests and mummy wrap races. But on November 1, cookies and mummies were what we had.
BRYTE cannot, and will not, fix the challenges facing refugee families. BRYTE can, and will, continue to build meaningful relationships between people who could have easily gone their whole lives without meeting. It will continue to be run by Brown students who believe deeply in the work they do, who value commitment, tutoring, and mentorship. Aisha has been a part of BRYTE for 5 years. Although Aisha is not my tutee, I’ve known her for 2, since I worked at BRYTE Summer Camp in 2013. Aisha’s older sister and my current tutee’s older sister are close friends; Aisha and my tutee talk on Facebook chat after school. I know that Aisha’s former tutor Vera, living in Paris, deeply misses and loves Aisha. I know that Aisha misses and loves her back.
In the past four years, I’ve learned that BRYTE is more than a tutoring program or a single relationship between me and my tutee. BRYTE is a community that has love and reciprocity as its core. And if love manifests in cupcakes and pumpkins, I will not deny the power in that.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our tutors and families.
June 20, 2016
June 13, 2016"I think about opening my mouth to call out goodbye, or to salute her in a traditional sign language farewell. Instead, I stand silently and smile."
Sally Hosokawa is a Community Fellow for Writers’ Group, a Swearer Center Community Program that facilitates creative writing workshops for adults with developmental disabilities. She studies literary translation in the Comparative Literature Department.
May 14, 2016“Club teachers understand us,” she says. “Even though they’re older, they’re not that much older, and so they’re like us and we can identify with them and talk to them about our problems.”
Addy is a volunteer with the Brown Elementary Afterschool Mentoring Program (BEAM), a Swearer Center community partnership that facilitates after-school programing activities and mentorship between Brown volunteers and students at William D’Abate Elementary School in the Olneyville neighborhood.
February 22, 2016
Pia is a junior double-concentrating in Education Studies and Comparative Literature. This is her third year with Writers' Group, a Swearer Center Community Program that offers creative writing workshops for adults with developmental disabilities, and her first year as a Swearer Center Community Fellow.
February 19, 2016I was intrigued by the program, but very intimidated by some of the topics. I’ve never been in the position to talk about gender or sexuality or rape culture.
Tiara came into Brown dead set on studying Neuroscience. After a summer or working with the local Planned Parenthood branch and taking health based classes she realized public health was her real calling. She has been volunteering for the SHAPE (Sexual Health Advocacy through Peer Education) program since sophomore year.
February 16, 2016