Sophia Bus (second from right) with some of the Gonkanou family, who is from the Ivory Coast
By Alicia Dziak
It’s a busy time of year for SGI’s seventh graders, as they work on completing their Kids Can Make a Difference (KCMAD) projects. These projects, a combined assignment for their social studies and ELA classes, challenge students to choose an organization and work with them in various ways throughout the course of the school year. SGI seventh grader Sophia Bus decided to work with JW.org (Jehovah’s Witnesses) for her project, and she has been able to work directly with refugees.
“My friends are part-time missionaries, known as pioneers, who work outside the country, but also right here locally in the Buffalo area,” explained Sophia. “They are a friendly face to people coming to this country and by learning French and Swahili, they are able to communicate with these new friends and help them in practical ways as well as connecting them with congregations so that they can study the bible freely.”
Sophia added that, “They help them learn English too, but by taking the time to learn to speak the refugee’s languages, they are better able to help them adjust to life here. The people we met from Africa have all dealt with horrible, unspeakable things and although they are so happy to be here, they still miss many aspects of their beautiful country.”
To earn the required number of service hours to accompany her project, Sophia noted that, “There are different ways to help. We collected gently used clothing/toys and books and brought them directly to families we met. We spent time with the volunteers and shadowed them in their work helping them to adapt to their new life here in America. We attempted to learn French so that we could speak to our new friends. I also arranged to have some of the friends come into the school to speak to my class about what they do and some of their experiences.”
While Sophia has chosen to work with JW.org in a specific way, she explained that there are other avenues for people to help, such as, “Donating time and money to organizations such as www.jrchc.org (Jericho Road Community health center), www.iibuff.org and JW.org. Simply shopping at the Westside Bazaar, where many refugees have established business and you are able to eat delicious ethnic foods prepared by talented people (www.westsidebazaar.com). My friend Gysma has a stand there where she sells cool things from Africa and sends money back home to build a well and a school in the village that she grew up in (she is currently back in the Sudan but her friends help her run her stand in her absence). Only people with money can go to school where she grew up and they have to walk a long way to get water. These are just a few of the places to start.”
Sophia said that the biggest challenge she’s faced is the language. “I wish I could instantly speak French and the different languages these beautiful people speak so that I could communicate independently without an interpreter,” she said. “The other challenge has been getting people to talk about what they do and have accomplished because everyone is so humble and the African friends are traumatized by what they have endured; it is hard for them to talk about it.”
As for many, KCMAD has become a family affair. “I am so happy that our school has this KCMAD project encouraged at this age,” Sophia’s mom, Wendy, said. “Sophia could not do this all by herself and our entire family, as well as many other people, were excited about her project and got involved. Her English teacher, Mrs. Canfield, was moved to donate clothing and the spirit of helping was infectious. Our family regularly works in a volunteer ministry, but this was an amazing experience for all of us.”
She feels Sophia has benefitted from this project by “Getting to meet new friends who look and speak differently and seeing so many selfless people utilizing their own time, finances and energy to help people has been inspiring. (This project) is close to her heart because my friend and her ‘aunt’ Tanya Geist has worked with refugees in the Buffalo area for the last several years and she has been fascinated by their stories. We are also Jehovah’s Witnesses and to see this aspect of service was something she was very excited about getting involved in too.”
Sophia is a great example of how kids CAN make a difference in our very own community and beyond. If you have any news of how students in the area are making a difference, please let us know! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.