Name: Haemin Ju
From: Houston, TX
School: Memorial Senior High School
The familiar, comforting smell of curry and Takis Fuego Chips fill my nostrils as I enter a house full of a dozen hyperactive kids running around in dirty clothes, spilling cans of Coke and juice boxes, throwing shoes – basically being the young and wild kids that they are. I put my backpack down on one of the few clean spots on the floor, clap my hands and say, “All right kids, let’s get to work.”
I pull up a table from the corner. It takes a bit of effort, but I eventually succeed in gathering the kids around. They scavenge through their backpacks and take out their homework. Pencils and crayons roll off the table edges; papers and erasers fly from corner to corner. I sit down and exhale, watching the beautiful faces of my Bhutanese brethren.
Taking care of my two younger biological siblings has taught me how to handle the Bhutanese refugee children I began tutoring every Wednesday at LifeTree Ministries since my sophomore year. It takes lots of patience, repetition, and creativity to control and teach these young, energetic kids. It is especially difficult because they are unfamiliar with English and do not fully understand the value of education. Despite all the drawbacks, for the two hours I have with them, I’ve treated these Bhutanese children like my own siblings, teaching them not only English and Math, but the benefits of respect, sharing, and having a positive mindset.
While my teachings are usually successful, it is not uncommon for me to send a child home due to misbehavior. In the Bhutanese refugee camps, the children were never restrained. They had no rules, no guidance, and no education. It was all about survival. I try to understand this mindset when I discipline these kids and teach them the fundamental qualities that I accepted as the norm growing up, such as hard work, responsibility, and flexibility. All children need to learn these qualities; however, the refugee children lack the environment and parenting that more settled school children have, so it is harder for them to grasp the basic concepts that kids like me took for granted. However, watching the refugee children practice what I teach, even if it takes them several months to grasp, is an incredible honor that is worth the time and energy it took.
Every day, these refugee children motivate me to become a better teacher, a kinder friend, and a stronger person. They continue to inspire me to never take what I have for granted and assist those who are less fortunate. By mentoring these young refugees on their studies and about the world, I and the other volunteers are ensured that our futures in ten, twenty, or even thirty years are in good, trustworthy hands. With this “forward looking” mindset, I enter the messy, Takis-crazed house every week with the determination to help the kids transition from the survival mentality they needed in Bhutan to their next step: succeeding in their new home.