Over the course of the year, I tutored a 20-year-old student in Damascus via Skype. Because of the time difference, I had to wake up at 5:45 A.M. to coordinate with him. We had to make ‘audio calls,’ because his internet was not good enough for video. We were connected through Paper Airplanes Tutoring, which is an organization that connects students around the world with Syrians that want to learn English. I taught a student whose brother was seeking asylum in Germany, and he had hoped to join him there, as he was attracted by work and education opportunities and economic growth. I was teaching towards the TOEFL, an English exam often used as a barometer of one’s fluency. A good score was required in order to obtain a scholarship from a German university-his university had been shut down for the year due to war. The experience was extremely rewarding, and he greatly inspired me. He stopped his English studies once the EU reached an agreement on how many Syrians they would accept. Because he was still in Syria, he was far behind on any asylum process, and the German universities were much harder to attend. I spoke with him at length about ways to flee the country, but he did not want to leave his parents behind. We remain friends, and often still talk on Facebook.
This summer I volunteered with an organization called Imagine Science Films, a non-profit film company with an emphasis on science. In addition to their annual film festival in New York, they also host satellite festivals in other cities. They also have a Youtube channel that is home to many short films. There’s a film series on their channel called Spotlight Films. In July, I went out with other volunteers at Imagine Science to produce a couple Spotlight Films. In our first, we met with the organizers and volunteers at North Brooklyn Farms, an urban farm in Williamsburg. Later we filmed the Biobus, which is a bus that teaches inner city youth about microbiology and New York City’s water. After spending many hours interviewing and filming, we then edited the films. It was a great experience and I’d love to volunteer there again.
Some Arabic students at Friends went to Jordan for part of Spring Break. While there, we spent time with an organization called Friends of the Earth Middle East, an organization that strives for ecological awareness and preservation. They also emphasize the importance of international peace and diplomacy between Jordan, Syria, Israel and Palestine. We learned a lot about the challenges Jordanians have with water and efficiency. One small project they are working on is making a bird house from recycled soda bottles filled with sand. Together, we helped to fill many bottles to contribute to their birdhouse.