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Hira (’18) is majoring in anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. This summer she interned at GirlForward, a nonprofit organization in Chicago, as part of the Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP).

GirlForward provides adolescent refugee girls the opportunity to gain education, mentorship, and leadership through the organization’s programs. I was an intern for Camp GirlForward, a summer education program with a social justice-based curriculum consisting of journal-writing, research projects, weekly field trips around Chicago, and much more.

I spent the past eight weeks with some of the most resilient girls I have ever met. I had the opportunity to work with nearly 30 adolescent refugee girls as they navigated a big city, a challenging language, an unfamiliar culture, and a new home. Many of the girls have been recently resettled in the United States—an average of two years ago—and have experienced varying levels of disrupted and/or limited education. Camp GirlForward helps make the transition to the U.S. a little bit easier for these girls—each with her unique story of love, loss, war, and abuse.

Why girls?

Because historically, girls in particular are expected to shoulder tremendous familial responsibility in addition to being subjected to social isolation and limited resources. As refugees, they’re expected to take on the roles of caregiver and translator for their families as they themselves struggle with being resettled in a new country, in a completely different school, where everyone speaks a different language than they do.

During Camp, I helped teach the girls to read, to write, to use computers and the Internet. But perhaps more importantly, I was able to teach them leadership and independence. The girls learned to be loud, strong, and confident; they learned about themselves, about body image, healthy versus abusive relationships, female health, and so much more. In the process, I also learned—about the resettlement process and what working at a nonprofit means—but also about their backgrounds, about their struggles and successes.

Working with these amazing girls has been such a humbling experience. Between helping with the logistics of developing an appropriate curriculum and administering literacy assessments, I’ve seen these girls grow by leaps and bounds, and found myself quickly falling in love with the refugee community of Chicago. I became a teacher, a mentor, and a friend to these girls, and I couldn’t imagine spending my summer any other way.