PAIR (Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refuges) is a Rice student-led nonprofit organization that coordinates a number of educational programs that benefit the refugee community in greater Houston, Texas. The Saturday Activity Sessions are weekly ESL games, activities, and academic exercises conducted by Rice undergraduate student volunteers for refugee students aged 6-19.
Last year, Rice volunteers brought roughly 30 refugees to the university’s Language Resource Center (LRC) every Saturday, but due to liability issues and a lack of adequate funding, we have spent most of our potential LRC time this year in the refugees’ apartments for our Saturday Sessions. While it is valuable for Rice students to get off campus and into the community, and see the area of Southwest Houston that is home to the refugees we work with, the refugee students themselves benefit more from the Rice environment.
Last week, when we drove to the refugees’ apartments as usual, we realized that they were slightly less excited to see us when they realized that our lesson plans involved working in the apartment of a refugee rather than visiting campus. An older refugee tried to explain to us that the younger kids hate staying in the apartments for the Sessions. We ourselves recognize the fact that they do not always provide the healthiest learning environment to the kids; regular drug usage among other things clearly demonstrates that the refugee students would benefit from leaving home for a couple of hours a week to work in a university environment.
Rice PAIR would like to hold more Saturday Sessions at Rice for a number of reasons. If the Sessions took place at Rice, more Rice students (10 vs. 15-20) could commit to volunteering regularly. At the LRC, the refugees are able to use center’s resources for English and computer literacy exercises. At Rice, PAIR can team up with other clubs and the Rice community as a whole in order to interact with a truly international set of students.
In order to bring refugee students to Rice more regularly, we would like to fund usage of reliable Rice University shuttles which can transport the refugees to campus with full liability coverage at a cost of $250 each Saturday. Overall, the Saturday Activity Sessions allow undergraduate students to make a valuable contribution to the Houston community, and allows refugees the opportunity to take advantage of university resources, and gives both refugees and students the chance to learn from each others’ varied experiences.