Building bridges: Bay Area teen creates club to tutor refugees from Afghanistan and beyond

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KGO) -- As the refugee crisis in Afghanistan continues, a group of young people in the Bay Area are doing their part of helping refugees from many different countries learn English with the goal of making more "Buddies without Borders".

At noontime on Saturdays 17-year old Krikor Kevranian, a senior at Design Tech High School in Redwood City can be found Zooming with another 17-year old, half a world away.

"His name is Mahdi and since last school year I've been talking to him on a weekly basis." Says Kevranian, who goes by "Koko" for short. Koko founded the Buddies Without Borders club at the school which helps connect his classmates with refugees from around the globe. Madhi is a refugee from Afghanistan now living in Greece.

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At first Koko admits, he had reservations about helping Mahdi learn English.

"I was nervous. What are we going to talk about? What if we don't like each other? What if it's awkward between us?" Despite his worries, Koko still wanted to help because of the struggles his own immigrant parents experienced coming to America from Armenia and his great grandparent's challenges as refugees who survived the Armenian Genocide and sought refuge in Syria.

"I know it's really hard to come to a place where you don't know the language. You have no friends. No family. If someone just helped them they would have had a better experience and that's what I want to give these kids."

Pretty soon, through their regular chats which became more frequent during the pandemic and watching Disney+ movies together, there was a transformation.

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"It's incredible" beams Koko. "When I first talked to him, it was mostly broken English. But now he's able to talk really well and understand most of it."

These connections are more than a lesson in English. According to D-Tech's director Melissa Mizel, it's a lesson for students in perspective and what's happening in our world today.

"They recognize the privilege they have living in the Bay Area and how much they have. They see (what's happening in the world) on the news. They're inundated all the time."

Mizel says the club is the epitome of the school's mission.

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"Make the world a better place. To get out in the community and support people and help people solve those problems." She says seeing the club succeed in that mission brings her joy.

"It makes this job so worthwhile."

So far dozens have joined the club and Koko hopes to amplify Buddies Without Borders to schools across the Bay Area.

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