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Baltimore zooms with refugee youth, Ahmad’s story

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By: Beeta Riahi, volunteer and family mentor coordinator

In recognition that an interrupted education is very common to the refugee experience, the IRC in Baltimore initiated the Refugee Youth Mentoring Project (RYMP) to match newly arrived refugee youth and young adults to positive adult mentors in Baltimore. These “youth success coaches” provide personalized interaction and guidance to their mentees in an informal setting, offering critical support to refugee youth in the era of COVID-19.

Before the pandemic forced everyone to socially distance, a youth success coach and an IRC staff person would gather at the youth’s home to greet the family and co-create a learning plan in the areas of academic achievement, vocational advancement or social inclusion. But in light of the need to go remote, in July the IRC in Baltimore launched its inaugural virtual youth coaching group.

Felix, Youth Services Coordinator, ensured that every mentee had the technology to connect, and sometimes he had to teach the youth how to use zoom via a combination of WhatsApp and zoom itself. Even some youth success coaches learned to zoom for the first time so they could meet with their mentee. Supportive parents, engaged youth and dedicated staff have ensured that weekly sessions take place over the course of the three month program so mentees can advance career and academic goals and practice English. The following exchange is an interview between a mentee, Ahmad and his youth success coach, Thomas.


IRC: Why did you want to participate in the coaching program?

Ahmad: I would like to become a doctor in the future, and I wanted to connect with people in this professional field or that could help me learn ways to achieve this goal.

Thomas: I have worked with ESOL tutoring and also volunteered in a school for newly arrived immigrant children when I lived in North Carolina. I enjoyed and learned from these interactions, and wanted to try the IRC mentoring program as an alternative activity during the virus.


IRC: What do you do in this coaching program?

Ahmad: At the beginning of our meetings, we meet in a group and learn more about the other mentees and coaches. In our breakouts sessions, I work on academic packets, and learn English through videos with my mentor. I like learning through zoom because I know it will help me in the future, professionally, to know how to use this technology. I also really like to be comfortable in my home, but still learning.

Thomas: I work with Ahmad to address his needs and help him in mathematics and English language skills; But then I also learn about his home country and culture. We watch videos—from National Geographic for example—as a prompt to engage in English conversation and have informal interaction.


IRC: What has been the most important part of this coaching experience so far?

Ahmad: When I am with my teacher, I learn so much and I trust someone in my community. I feel more comfortable in Baltimore and confident in myself. I also like how in our group meetings everyone is very respectful of one another.

Thomas: It’s been important to gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by immigrant youth in Baltimore and learning about another culture from the perspective of a young person


IRC: What are you most excited about moving forward with the coaching program?

Ahmad: I am excited to learn even more about American culture. I also want to learn more about the subjects that will help me become a doctor, such as biology and chemistry

Thomas: I learn about Ahmad’s home culture and religion, and I’ve also learned new skills for interacting through zoom. We work to establish trust and find the right balance between academic and informal interaction; I like doing background research into the culture of my mentees to individualize our interactions and tailor our sessions to specific needs.

Ahmad Bilal (second from the right, in a blue shirt) and the rest of his family pose for a picture.


If you are interested in becoming a coach for our fall group start by signing up here.

If you or someone you know would like to request services from the IRC, please call 410-327-1885, ext. 111 or fill out this form online. We are usually able to respond to inquiries within 2-3 days.


If you would like to consider supporting our clients and work during this crisis, we encourage you to consider making a financial donation to our office or purchasing Visa gift cards from our Amazon Wishlist to be sent to clients.