Difference as an Opportunity

Difference can be uncomfortable because it can spawn anxiety and fear of the unknown. One tutor named Maria was nervous about tutoring with SDRT because of the vast differences in language, culture, and experience that she had with our students. After tutoring, however, she learned that the differences were opportunities to be creative and that despite the many differences, she could build a community with our students and volunteers. Especially in our current cultural climate, may we embrace differences as opportunities for growth and creativity to flourish.

Below are the well-written words of our volunteer Maria.

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Walking into Ibarra Elementary School as a seventh grader on my first day of tutoring, I was overwhelmed by the love and joy emanating out of each and every one of the students. A group of girls came up to me and immediately started complimenting my hair, my sweater, my smile—they were so eager to share their positivity. They showed me where I was supposed to go and waited patiently in line to be paired with a tutor. When I got my first student, a second grader named Binto, she knew I was new and showed me the ropes. She toured me around the room, explained where the different level books were kept and how we signed out at the end of the day, all while understanding that I spoke a different language than her.

The thing I was most nervous about before starting to tutor was the language barrier. I knew that a lot of these students would be part of the first generation from their family to enter America, and they would not yet be fluent in English. In my mind, I had seen this difference as a roadblock; I could not have been more wrong. The students have inspired me. Their joy and curiosity encouraged me to see our difference as an opportunity to create fun, new ways to communicate. We used blocks and candy to do math and find patterns, and we made up our own games with flashcards. I have never seen a group of students more eager to learn. My favorite part about tutoring is seeing that moment when a student’s face lights up as they finally understand a concept they have been working hard towards. The room never lacks energy. The love at San Diego Refugee Tutoring is unparalleled. Every student and every tutor cares about each other and has a purpose for being there. Tutoring at Ibarra has opened my eyes, and I have learned more there than I have ever taught. Each week I looked forward to seeing those kids and hanging out with them again, and I have come to realize that SDRT is a family

This past summer, I graduated from High School. Looking back, it is clear to me that tutoring was one of the highlights of my education. Before heading off to college, I wanted to have one more opportunity to engage with these students. I have a passion for educating young girls and empowering them to become independent women. My goal was to leave one last impact on the younger girls in the program in an effort to motivate them to learn. To do this, I filled backpacks with school necessities such as books, pencils, hair ties, games, and stickers and was able to hand deliver them to the youngest of our group. What a thrill it was to see the excitement on their faces and the support of their families! It was amazing to witness the love even from their other siblings who were proud of them for working hard in school. I will keep that image in my mind forever.  

The last visit I made on my journey delivering backpacks was to the sweet face of the girl who showed me the ropes of SDRT, Binto. After making a special bag for her, I stopped by her home to meet her and her siblings. I was able to talk to Binto for the first time in years, something I never thought I would have the exciting opportunity to do. We caught up on school and how our lives were going, and we even got to debrief some of the drama of middle school. I am so grateful for the lessons Binto and all of SDRT has taught me, and will never forget the impact this wonderful family has had on my life.

About Mimi Lee

Mimi started volunteering for SDRT in 2016 and currently serves as its Middle & High School Director. She met her husband at SDRT, and they live together in City Heights. She has her Master's in Education and teaching credential in English Language Arts.

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