Refugee Kids Go Back to School

backpack By Aimee Zangandou, Refugee and Immigration Services Case Manager

When I asked Jeanne about her new school, she smiled brightly and answered that it was "Fantastic!". Jeanne and her ten siblings are from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They arrived in the United States on May 7, 2015 after spending three years in a refugee camp in Kenya. The kids  have been waiting all summer to start their new school - in America!

In early August, Jeanne and her siblings all received brand new backpacks filled with school supplies, thanks to Backpack in the Park. Backpack in the Park is an annual event organized by For the Kid in All of Us. Volunteers fill donated backpacks with school supplies, which are given to organizations serving children throughout the Atlanta area. This year, Lutheran Services of Georgia received 200 backpacks for kids in our programs.

When I dropped their backpacks off a couple days before school started, I could see their excitement. The day they had been anticipating for three months was almost here! I asked them if they were ready and they all replied "Yes" and told me how they were both excited and nervous. They were worried about not speaking English.

After two weeks of the school year, I asked them what stood out so far about American schools. Here's what they had to say:

1) It is nice to have a ride to school. They like that the school bus picks them up and drops them off right in front of their apartment. In Kenya, they had to walk quite a long ways to get to school.

2) The teachers are extremely nice and helpful. They were surprised that the teachers met them at their level, engaged them in conversation, and took time to get to know them. They got to choose their own seats. Back in Kenya, they were assigned seats and the teacher was unapproachable and feared.

3) They eat at school! They are fed breakfast and lunch at school, a totally new concept for them. Back in Kenya, schools are not associated with eating. Having enough food to eat was a daily struggle in the refugee camp. Being able to eat both breakfast and lunch at school is quite "awesome".

4) Changing classrooms through the day. For the two siblings in high school, they are now able to get to their classes without getting lost. In Kenya, teachers are the ones that change classrooms, not the students. The students in each particular classroom/grade have the same schedule and teachers are the ones who figure out what classroom is expecting them next.

LSG thanks Backpack in the Park for providing backpacks and school supplies so children can start the new school year in style.