By Muriel Carpenter '16
A couple of months ago, I had the surreal experience of learning that the US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, mentioned a program that I help run during her conference talk: Paper Airplanes.
Paper Airplanes started out as a tiny program, made up of just a few friends of Bailey Ulbricht '15 (Carleton College). I knew Bailey from an Arabic class I took with her at Carleton during my last year of high school, and I didn’t really keep in touch with her after I left for college. In the meantime, Bailey went to Turkey for a summer and came back with a passion for improving education services for Syrian refugees. By then I was at Swarthmore College, continuing to study Arabic, and completely oblivious.
Bailey reached out to me in June 2014 to see if I wanted to be a tutor for her new organization, Paper Airplanes. She asked if I had an hour or two per week to spend tutoring a Syrian refugee student in English over Skype, which sounded interesting enough. I tutored a student that summer and another one in the fall, and I eventually became a manager in the program. At first, managing was actually less work than tutoring was; I only had Swarthmore students to oversee, and at any given time there were only a handful of them. Then Paper Airplanes grew.
Over the last two years, this has evolved from a little Skype correspondence between Bailey’s classmates and some of the refugees Bailey met in Turkey into a program involving a total of around 250 students, tutors, and administrative workers. Now, we’re not just cobbling together a few different English teaching resources and then throwing the tutors into Skype meetings without much preparation. Instead, we are working with an ESL expert to create our own curriculum, specifically geared towards the Skype format and TOEFL test preparation. Everything runs on volunteer power for now, but we’re currently trudging through the paperwork to incorporate Paper Airplanes into a non-profit, turning the program from a hodgepodge flurry of Google spreadsheets into a sustainable organization. The past year and a half have been incredibly unpredictable, but they have also led us down exciting paths. We are looking to continue expanding and diversifying our programs, hoping to benefit refugees worldwide.
If you’re interested in tutoring, collaborating with us, or knowing more about this program, please reach out to me! My personal email is email@example.com, and the institutional email is firstname.lastname@example.org.