JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Hoosiers help from the bottom of their heart, and rings just as true for the children of Camp Atterbury. With their first day of school being this past Tuesday, teachers are volunteering their time every weekend to teach the English language and help in mathematics.
One of these teachers is Sara Jallal, who is a full-time fourth grade teacher in Bloomington. Having immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan at the age of five, Jallal spends several hours teaching and translating for the refugees.
Jallal admits that her immigration story is vastly different from the kids in her classroom — all between the ages of five to 13. She described how these kids ran from the only home they knew, yet continue to be positive and eager to learn.
“I felt 100% completely connected whenever all this stuff happened. It was really hard on my family and I and we were just feeling kind of helpless because we’re here living this blessed life, we have so many things and we’re safe,” Jallal said. “Me being Afghan and being able to speak the language with them, I feel like that helps bridge the gap a little bit, where they don’t know very much English and then I can speak English and Dari with them and then help them to learn English.”
To assist in this, their free teaching materials are in Pashto, Dari and in English so children and adults can learn both and be self-sufficient. This way, when children move to a more permanent school, they would have some English under their belt.
Researchers at IU said giving refugees access to educational materials and a trusted adult is incredibly important in these types of traumatic and stressful situations. For example, Jallal translates for the Afghan women, as they don’t feel comfortable asking the men.
“Education in emergency settings such as this one, such as the environment at Camp Atterbury is so critical it has actually been called the fourth pillar of humanitarian aid,” said Elisheva Cohen, a Ph.D. researcher at IU Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. Her background is in refugee education, specifically.
“When people think of humanitarian aid, they think about food, shelter, water and medical attention,” Cohen said. “But research shows that education itself is life-saving and life sustaining and children need it and they are craving it.”
Cohen has taught in Jodan, Morocco, Egypt and in the United States. She’s “seen firsthand the value in education.”
“Especially in these emergency settings, education – and I mean that very broadly right – programming for children and youth is so important for providing a sense of normalcy for helping students or helping young people process trauma and for maintaining intellectual stimulation,” Cohen said. Because right now: “any sense of normalcy is gone and there’s also a lot of fear and concern for anyone left behind.”
Jallal keeps coming back to teach, and she hopes, sometime soon, that this will become something part-time.