AUSTIN, Texas -- As the country wages a tense debate over immigration and refugee policy, hundreds have already resettled here in Texas. They have no choice but to navigate life in the United States with little help.

However, a summer program that hopes to bridge the cultural gap for young newcomers who've never stepped inside an American school.

It is tough being the new kid on the block, but it can be even harder when students are new to the country, coming from unstable homelands, and when English is not their first language.

"I was really nervous, because I was not speaking English,” said Reem Al Khafaji, a refugee from Iraq.

This week, "Interfaith Action of Central Texas" began its seven-week program to help young newcomers prepare for the public school system and acclimate to American life. Hailing from a dozen different countries, these students learn English, math, social studies, essentially get used to a typical school day.

"Not knowing English, not knowing the basic fundamentals of a lot of the subjects that they are working with, they are already at a disadvantage, so they need lots of support to keep them inspired, keep them motivated,” said  Simone Talma Flowers, the executive director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

For many, their education was interrupted. Their families suffered to come to the United States, fleeing violent homelands and enduring temporary settlements.

"My challenges through life are pretty insignificant compared to what they’ve been through, the violence, the domestic abuse, the religious discrimination that they’ve endured, the fear of not enough food, enough water, safety. Those are things that we don’t worry about," said volunteer Suzin Sciabarasi.

"They want to work hard. They want to live their lives. They want to give their children the best opportunity. There’s no difference between a refugee family and our families,” said Lubna Zeidan, the Refugee Program Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas.

Interfaith Action of Central Texas has helped refugees since 2002, it became a nonprofit in 1988. During the school year, staff and volunteers offer tutoring and mentoring to students and their families, as well as English classes for adults.


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