While most Americans spent December 21 preparing for Christmas, on the other side of the world, nearly 20,000 Syrian civilians were fleeing to the Turkish border after bombings in Syria’s Idlib province, reported news media Al Jazeera. Two days earlier, elsewhere in the Middle East, the same news outlet reported an overnight rocket attack from Gaza and later, Israeli air raids. Living with this kind of uncertainty is hard to imagine for most Eastern Christian School students, yet many teenagers around the world attempt to thrive in similar circumstances every day.
Photo: Senior Elijah Crefeld prepares his 1.5-hour tutoring lesson to his student in Palestine.
This year, I started a program where a high school student will be paired up with a student of similar age from a war-torn region and tutor them English skills. This opportunity was enabled by the nonprofit organization Paper Airplane. This organization is dedicated to giving free English education to teens from war-torn regions and preparing them for a better future.
Senior Elijah Crefeld, who is passionate in learning about history, conflicts, current events, and also memorized every single country on the map, became the first to join the program. Elijah’s student came from Palestine, specifically the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip borders Egypt and Israel, but both countries closed their border to the people in Gaza Strip. It is a place where the economy is stagnant, unemployment rates are high, poverty is prevalent, and conflicts are part of everyday life. Hamas also controls the currency flow by preventing the foreign currency from flowing into the country and the domestic currency flowing out of the country. Many attempted to flee the country but both Egypt and Israel have closed the border for any Palestinians trying to cross. At the same time, Hamas militants created more chaos and instabilities by instigating a variety of terrorist acts.
“I was surprised that fleeing the Gaza Strip wasn’t his first thought about the Gaza Strip,” Elijah explained. “He loves video games, especially Fortnite. He has a brother and a sister. He loves learning English, probably because mass media is often English, especially those about gaming.” Since Elijah also loves gaming, he feels lucky to get matched up with someone who shares the same interests as him. Tutoring English to someone whose native language is Arabic isn’t as hard as many think. “Sometimes we use Google Translate but we don’t have trouble communicating. I just need to speak slowly and clearly,” describes Elijah.
Junior Gabriela Lopez also showed a strong interest in joining the program. She recently just finished the required training to become a tutor and got matched up with a student from Syria. “With Paper Airplanes, I can teach Middle Eastern people my age the English language, so that they may go to college and have a better life. I’ve always wanted to use my knowledge and interests to help other people, which I feel I can do with this program,” explains Gabriela when asked about why she’s interested in joining the program. Gabriela also suggested that since the Middle East is a place full of violence and tragedies, it is important that people are well-aware of what’s going on in the world and “it helps us to be more sympathetic,” she adds.
Tutoring students from war-torn regions is not always easy. Gabriela’s second student Jana lives in the city of Aleppo. Aleppo is located in Northern Syria close to the Syria-Turkey border where the most recent conflicts took place. Due to the region's instability, Jana suffers from unstable internet connections, lasting for only 10 to 20 minutes, making it virtually impossible for Gabriela to conduct a full 1.5 tutoring session with Jana.
As the theme this year in EC is every nation, tribe, and tongue, this program offered by Paper Airplane allowed EC students to connect and love those that come from a completely different culture with the most eye-opening life experiences. As Elijah said, “Tutoring someone from the Gaza Strip made me realize how similar we can be despite the fact that we are in very different situations.”