The women smiled back, timidly. Though the teachers smiled warmly at them, they couldn’t help but feel a little out of place. Everything seemed so new and strange to them.
They were refugees – part of a larger group recommended to the ELC by the Global Center for Refugee Education and Science (GCRES) – a local nonprofit that helps refugees integrate into the community. The Center hoped that the women could learn English and develop new skills by spending time with the children.
But to the 4- and 5-year-old audience, none of those details really mattered. To these young preschoolers, all that mattered is that these women were new friends.
After the teachers finished their introductions, playtime began. As the children scattered to the various corners of the room, a little girl named Sarah softly approached one of the volunteers and held out her hand. Though Salima didn’t speak the little girl’s language, she recognized the gesture and accepted it; allowing herself to be led away to a pretend-tea party in a far corner of the room.
The two remaining women turned to see young Matthew in front of them, beckoning to a puzzle. They bent down and helped him sort through the pieces. After a few minutes, Matthew noticed that his new friends were awful quiet. Ever the conversationalist, Matthew decided to help them.
“This is a robot,” he said, picking up one of the puzzle pieces and pointing to it. “Say robot!”
The refugees smiled at their young teacher and they gingerly sounded out the strange new word.
“Thank you for giving time to be with children,” Ms. Salima shared with the teachers on her last day.
At the Early Learning Center, our staff and volunteers nurture and support young minds in an environment designed to prepare them for Kindergarten and beyond. But more often than not, our staff have discovered that those young minds are the ones nurturing and supporting them.
Those 4- and 5-year-olds in the center may have set out to make a new friend that first day in the classroom – but in the end, they inspired a new dream.
After that last day volunteering in the ELC, Ms. Salima began the process of applying for a childcare license. The next time the children saw her, Ms. Salima was taking certification courses and gathering materials to open her own childcare center in her home.
“I love them and want to teach!,” Ms. Salima explained. “I learn so much from the children!”
"We are so grateful for the GCRES volunteers," ELC Director Torria Baker shared. "They gave our little ones an extra set of ear to listen to their stories, an extra set of eyes to see what they can do, an extra set of hands to help them build with blocks, an extra set of arms to hug away their tears, and most importantly these ladies gave our childrren their hearts every time they walked into our classrooms!"
The Early Learning Center is now enrolling for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. If you or someone you know is looking for quality childcare, please call 703-765-0909 or visit our website at www.earlylearningctr.org.
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities at the ELC, please contact Torria Baker at email@example.com.