Camp Atterbury Afghan refugee children learning from an Edgewood teacher
ELLETTSVILLE – When Edgewood Middle School Teacher Sara Jallal-Azizi had a simple chat with her fourth grade class about what everyone did over Labor Day weekend, she was shocked at what happened next.
This weekend, Jallal-Azizi, who is Afghan-American, had started volunteering as a translator at Atterbury Camp near Edinburgh to help Afghan refugees. Once her students in Ellettsville heard about what she was doing, the cause quickly became dear to them.
“The class just shouted, ‘OK, we’re ready to help!’ Recalls Maggie Johnson, a fourth grader in Jallal-Azizi’s class. This is exactly what happened, Jallal-Azizi said.
“They have such a big heart and they just wanted to help,” Jallal-Azizi said. “They were all very eager and willing to help. ”
Jallal-Azizi has volunteered at Camp Atterbury every weekend since Labor Day, and on September 19, she gave her first class to Afghan children. Every Sunday she teaches basic English vocabulary, important phrases and a bit about how schools are run in the United States. She continues to go there every weekend and whenever she can.
“Everything I personally do there like volunteering and teaching my class there and everything like that is important and I love it, but I think they take a huge lesson from it. life and gain so much empathy, ”Jallal-Azizi said of his fourth graders.
As the school day ended on a recent Thursday, Jallal-Azizi’s class meticulously worked on decorating cardboard boxes that will be used as donation collection containers around the school. They carefully cut out construction paper, peeled off stickers on sheets and capless markers, writing messages like “Please donate to Afghan refugees!” On the sides of the boxes.
Teaching refugees at Camp Atterbury
For Jallal-Azizi, volunteering at Camp Atterbury is personal. Jallal-Azizi was 5.5 years old when his family immigrated to the United States. When she started going to school in Indiana, she didn’t know any English at all. She still remembers her ESL teacher working with her one-on-one almost daily.
“It’s something that gets a little bit stuck for me, and I remember it was just difficult,” Jallal-Azizi said. “It was hard on my family. It was hard on my parents, myself being in school and not being able to make friends so easily because I didn’t speak the language.
She learned English quickly, she said, and lived with her family in Fishers and Noblesville before moving to Bloomington in her fourth year. She went to school at Monroe County Community School Corp., then Indiana University.
Today, Jallal-Azizi is in her third year of teaching, and hearing the news of what was happening in Afghanistan has hit her and her family hard, she said. The last time the Taliban took power, Jallal-Azizi’s parents left Afghanistan and went to Pakistan, where Jallal-Azizi was born.
“We just felt helpless, like there was nothing we could do to improve the situation there,” she said.
But after hearing that Afghans were coming to Indiana, Jallal-Azizi immediately started making calls about how to get involved. Jallal-Azizi said she was put in touch with someone from the Department of Homeland Security to go through the process of becoming a volunteer translator and getting permission to enter Camp Atterbury.
This is something she wanted to do because Dari is not a very common language, she said, and translators were especially needed. Some women did not feel comfortable talking to men about certain issues or concerns or things they needed, Jallal-Azizi said.
As a recurring volunteer, people began to find out that Jallal-Azizi was a teacher. She worked with a sergeant at Camp Atterbury to develop a plan to have classes for the children.
“I was like, you know what, we need to think of something that we can do for these kids for their education and give them a little head start instead of going to an American school and having no idea of what it is, and not knowing how it is and speaking the language and stuff, it kind of helps bridge that gap and alleviate the culture shock for them a little bit, “Jallal-Azizi said. .
Jallal-Azizi teaches children in two age-based groups with over 30 children each.
“They are so cute,” Jallal-Azizi said. “They are so eager to learn.
Classes are held on Sundays, but Jallal-Azizi also travels to Camp Atterbury on other days to volunteer, translate and drop off donations. But as soon as the kids see her, even if it’s a few hours before class, they line up right outside the classroom door, she said, ready to learn.
“I wish I could do more, like I wasn’t an hour and 15 minutes away, I would go every day I think, if I could, because they are so eager to learn and they want to come to class, ”Jallal-Azizi said.
EIS students lead a fundraising campaign
It didn’t take long for Jallal-Azizi’s experiences to inspire his students at EIS. She told her students that people had to quickly leave their homes in Afghanistan because the situation was not safe for them, so they couldn’t bring much of their belongings. A lot of people came with literally just the clothes on their backs, she told them.
“That’s when all the ideas started coming to the kids, and the gears and their brains started spinning, you know, and they were like, ‘We have to do something,'” Jallal-Azizi said.
So, without any prompting from Jallal-Azizi, the students thought about different ways to help and decided on a donation campaign.
“Honestly, I felt bad because they had to leave their house with nothing and I felt we had to help them,” said Abriana Richardson, a fourth-grader in Jallal-Azizi’s class.
Students planned ways to get the word out, such as participating in Eagle Eye school announcements, talking about their project at a school council meeting, making flyers, and placing boxes around the school like donation collection sites. They also came up with the idea of giving envelopes to each teacher so that cash donations can be collected and used to buy new things for Afghan refugees, “especially toys for children,” said Isabel Branam, a fourth grade student.
“I felt sad, I felt really bad for them and I just thought about what it would be like to have to leave my house and it really hurt for them,” said Abigail Gregory, a fourth grader. year.
The ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes is something students learn in school through Second Steps, a social-emotional learning program. Carmen Frye, a fourth grader, said the class learned to be kind and empathize.
“We’ve learned to empathize and walk in each other’s shoes,” said Abriana.
Sitting on the floor of Jallal-Azizi’s classroom last week, fourth-grader Kyle Dabbert glanced around.
“We’re very lucky to have all of these, like the Smartboards and all the beautiful things that we have here,” Kyle said. “The others, the Afghans, have nothing. Only their clothes.
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Jallal-Azizi said she wants her students to be able to make their plans come true. Once they had an idea, it became their class project. The students have taken the lead while Jallal-Azizi helps with logistics and drops off donations at Camp Atterbury.
“I’m really proud of them because I had no idea it was going to come out of this, right after a conversation about what you did over the weekend?” said Jallal-Azizi. “I kind of shared with them what I did and then they walked away with it and it’s so cool.”
How to help
Jallal-Azizi said that as long as the Afghan refugees are at Camp Atterbury, she will continue to return there on weekends and whenever she can – like this week during the Richland-Bean Blossom Community’s fall break. School Corp.
Jallal-Azizi has a Amazon Wish List, amzn.to/3mFFCor, with items that will be used to teach at Camp Atterbury or to help meet basic needs.
Monetary donations or donations of new items like clothes, toys and toiletries can also be made at EIS or through Venmo @Sjallal.
Contact Emily Cox at 812-331-4243, [email protected] or follow @HT_InSchool on Twitter.