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GirlForward Program

Ava McElhone Yates, SVR Volunteer, interview with:

 Nyota Mweniake, GirlForward Program Participant 

Experience with GirlForward 

Nyota was born and raised in a refugee camp in Tanzania before coming to the United States in 2016 as a freshman in high school. She joined GirlForward during her sophomore year. Nyota heard about GirlForward from the refugee resettlement agency working with her family. She first went to the GirlForward summer camp, where they learned about the program and met other participants. Nyota was eager to find a program like this to help her learn English. She fondly remembers attending the camp that first summer since she was able to meet people from many different places, learn about GirlForward, and connect with the local community. 


Now in her first year of college, Nyota is grateful for GirlFoward for creating a safe space to turn to for help at any time. The mentorship program at GirlForward (which she participated in after attending the camp) became an essential resource for Nyota during the college application process. It was also a helpful way to learn about American culture, understand the local environment, and have someone to talk to and process everything with.  


Nyota later became a member of the Girls Advisory Board of GirlForward, which allowed her to share her story and voice heard within the organization. The Advisory Board is a group of roughly eight girls who participated in GirlForward programming and met each month to brainstorm how to improve GirlForward and make a change in the local community. This was an efficient way to convey what the girls in the program needed and help shape the future of GirlFoward to fit those needs.


Recommendations for good mentor-mentee relationships 

Nyota says that going into the mentor-mentee relationship with an open mind is very important. She also suggests that there be clear lines of communication and frequent opportunities to reflect on that relationship. One of the challenges to that relationship can be language/English proficiency. It can also be challenging for the mentees to explain their background and what they have been through in a second language. Nyota suggests that mentors should be understanding of that, patient, and open-minded. She also recommends having a thorough background check and interview process with the mentors to ensure mentors and mentees have some interests and experiences in common. 


Recommendations for future programs 

Nyota identified many challenges for refugee students when transitioning into college. For example, she explained that incoming students might not know information about how the college functions, what systems are in place, or how to ask for help and clarification on those things. Nyota says any program should address those concerns as well as emphasize communication skills and networking. Nyota also suggests that colleges and universities take time to learn about their refugee and immigrant students to understand what they need at college and how to respond appropriately.

Meet SVR Volunteer, Ava McElhone Yates

Ava McElhone Yates, Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education (CFMDE), Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. 

Ava McElhone Yates is a recent Vassar College graduate with interests in border studies, community development, and international human rights. She served as a co-coordinator for the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education (CFMDE), an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded initiative to develop a response from higher education institutions regarding forced migration while creating a shared, interdisciplinary curriculum. Ava has conducted research along the U.S.-Mexico border with the Research Experience for Undergraduates Immigration Policy and Border Communities program.

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