A Culture of Community

by Katya Barrett '17 and Danielle Phan '16
May 6, 2015

Katya Barrett and Danielle Phan are two of six community fellows for Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment (BRYTE), a refugee tutoring program that matches Brown students with refugee students in Providence.

BRYTE Community [brīt  kə myo̵̅o̅′nə tē]

  1. All those who are or have been involved with the Brown Refugee Tutoring and Enrichment program as tutors, tutees, family members, and/or community partners.

    “We were so excited for our Spring Celebration, the end-of-year BRYTE community event”

Being a BRYTE tutor can often feel like a solitary venture - we work in a model that matches Brown students with refugee youth in one-on-one tutoring and mentoring relationships.  For three hours a week and for at least two semesters, tutors and tutees work in-home, building academic fluency and cultural competencies. Because so much of BRYTE’s work takes place on an individual scale, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring the full community together.

Our focus at many recent coordinator meetings was the upcoming Spring Celebration - a chance to bring the community together to recognize the work done by each tutoring pair this semester.  

In planning, though, it’s easy to get bogged down in details. A week before the event, we were in crisis, bumped from our original space by a larger event.  While we found a campus green where the event could go on, we remained worried. Preoccupations with the travel distance from where many of our tutees live, the arduous walk up the hill, and the many other events going on that day swirled in our heads.

But at exactly noon on April 25, something magical happened.   Seemingly all at once and exactly on time, tutees and tutors sprinted onto the field. Daniel was taking a piggy back ride on his tutor Allan’s back, while his brother Berhane followed close behind, shouting joyfully all the while. Others grabbed the football, and before we knew it, an impromptu game was taking place. No one seemed to have even noticed the walk up the hill.

Before long, all of Ittleson Quad was bubbling over with the noise of kids playing, doing potato sack races, and lounging in the sun.

The best part was not the activities themselves, but the abundance of laughs and smiles, of love. Amidst the happy chaos, tutors introduced tutees to their friends, tutees translated for their more newly arrived playmates, and everyone posed for silly photos.  

Reciprocity and bi-directional learning, two core values of BRYTE, were everywhere: Appoline and her tutor perfected bracelet-making techniques.  Nardos and Betelhem taught tutors Vanessa and Athena a soccer game of their own creation.  Five year-old Samwel and tutor Claire went on an adventure, walking around the field to say hi to almost every person in attendance.

In the end, it didn't really matter where the event was or what activities were planned. It didn’t really matter how many other things were going on that day. What did matter was the people: the tutees who have formed cross-cultural friendships from learning together at summer camp. The tutors who have built bonds on RIPTA, planning and debriefing lessons. And of course, the tutor and tutee pairs that have strengthened relationships over the past semester, or year, or four years.

While logistics and details are important, they aren’t the be-all and end-all; a perfectly planned event would have been nothing without the BRYTE community and the sense of love that ties it together. That’s not an action-step that can be checked off, yet it is the most important.