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“Do It!” Volunteer Reflects on Experience with African Community Learning Program

February 10, 2018

 Aminata Traore reads to Dieynaba in English while translating in French.

 

On the rainy Tuesday afternoon of October 9, 2017, Aminata Traore was one of first ever volunteers to walk into African Community Learning Program’s door. Four months later, she shares her experiences with the new organization.

 

Aminata moved to the United States from Cote D’Ivoire, a West African country, at the age of 11. She is a first-year graduate medical student at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

 

Aminata found out about African Community Learning Program through a fellow Penn medical student, Daniel Akuma, who was tabling a volunteer fair at their school. Daniel told her about this program that was helping students of  African background in West Philadelphia, and she was attracted.

 

“I was always interested in working with children, especially immigrant populations,” Aminata said. “I felt it was the perfect way to get involved with the community.”

 Aminata shares a laugh with Daniel during the Africa Celebration. 

 

Now in her second semester with African Community Learning Program, Aminata has gotten to know the students and many of their future aspirations. Down the line, she hopes to be a resource for students like Raheemah, a eight grader who wants to become a doctor.

 

“My experience has been really good,” she explained. “Getting to know the students has been a highlight for sure. I see a lot of the same challenges I went through when I was integrating to American society. I hope it’s a good influence on the students to see someone who went through a similar experiences and be well-adjusted.”

 

Through the organization, Aminata learned that she would like to blend aspects of community and health in her future work. Fluent in English, French, and Dioula, she has been giving much needed support to the organization’s students who recently came from French speaking African countries struggling with English.

 

Aminata reflected on a highlight of her experience with African Community Learning Program. On December 17, 2017, she was among the attendees of the organization’s Africa Celebration. In this occasion, students, parents, volunteers, and supporters of African Community Learning Program gathered to celebrate the end of a successful semester, enjoying a variety African foods and students’ presentations.

 

“I loved the celebration!, she exclaimed.”I think it’s important to meet people’s families. It puts them in a different context and helps you understand them better. Even though I was getting to know the children, it was different to see and meet their parents and see how they interacted with their families. Overall, it’s a privilege to be let into their lives like that. I am very grateful that I was there for the celebration.

 Aminata (center) receives her volunteer certificate during the Africa Celebration. Hazim Harderman, secretary (left) and Aminata Sy, founder (right).

 

When  asked what would she tell those considering to volunteer with African Community Learning Program, her message was clear.

 

“Do it! I am definitely glad to be a part of this program,” Aminata declared. “If you have any interest at all in either mentoring, education, immigrant issues, or Africa in general, this would be a great program get involved in”

 

Aminata’s journey to African Community Learning Program is one that many immigrant children in America could related to. She had to learn English, adapt to American culture, and struggle to obtain legal immigration status. Aminata and her family came to America from Cote D’Ivoire in 2004 through her father’s work visa. She was with her father, mother and three older siblings. However, her dad’s job didn’t work out. During same period, Cote D’Ivoire was in the middle of a civil war. Her dad returned home, leaving the rest of the family behind, so Aminata and her siblings could go to school in America.

 

“It was hard in terms of not being able to grow up with my dad,” Aminata remembered. “We were undocumented immigrants for a while. It was difficult in terms of having access to health care, having access to jobs. My dad tried to send us money but the conversion rate is not as high.”

 

Aminata’s family applied for asylum and became legal immigrants based on the unstable political situation in Cote D’Ivoire. This also meant that they were not able to return to Cote D’Ivoire anytime soon.This coincided with when Aminata started thinking about applying to college. Though a stressful moment for her, Aminata was still able to get into one the best schools in the world: Dartmouth College. She received a scholarship that helped cover her school expenses.  

 

By 2014, things began looking up for her family. They were no longer undocumented and were settled in America. But on October 22, 2014, they received news that shocked their family. Her father was seriously ill and her mother flew to Cote D’Ivoire see him. By then, it was too late. Aminata’s father passed away on October 25, 2014.

 

“It was definitely a challenging time for me. It was senior year and not having a sense of closure with my dad was hard. I don’t even know how I made it through senior year.”

 

Aminata’s father applied for a U.S. visa many time but was rejected because U.S. officials thought he would stay in the country since his family lives here. Aminata decided her career path based on this experience.

 

“In a way, losing my dad made me realize that health care improvement is something that I want to do with my life,” she said. “The care or rather lack of care he got there made me realize that there are a lot of ways to improve the health care system in Cote D’Ivoire, so there aren’t as many preventable deaths. He is my angel.”

 Aminata (right) helping students with homework along with Hazim (left) during African Community Learning Program first day on Tuesday, October 9, 2017.

 

Aminata’s personal experiences and now her involvement with African Community Learning Program are helping her gain more clarity about the direction of her future.

 

Aminata Sy is the founder and president of African Community Learning Program, a journalist, and a rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies international relations and English.

 

African Community Learning Program educates, connects, empowers, and supports people of African background in West Philadelphia.

 

To support African Community Learning Program visit africancommunitylearningprogram.org and facebook.com/AfricanCommunityLearningProgram/

or email Aminata Sy at aminata@sas.upenn.edu

 

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