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After 18 years of service, BRYTE continues to support refugee students in R.I.

Tutoring program brings tutoring, support, community to Providence’s refugee families

Samson Lemlem, the father of one of the program’s tutees, praised the program extensively, describing BRYTE’s tutors as “attentive,” “prepared” and “very helpful.”
Courtesy of Tiffney Aina
Samson Lemlem, the father of one of the program’s tutees, praised the program extensively, describing BRYTE’s tutors as “attentive,” “prepared” and “very helpful.” Courtesy of Tiffney Aina

For 18 years, Brown Refugee Youth Tutoring and Enrichment has brought educational support and one-on-one mentorship to Providence’s refugee community. With over 100 student volunteers commuting directly to tutees’ homes in the greater Providence area, the program aims to provide an intimate relationship between tutors and the families they hope to support.

Between 100 and 345 refugee families resettle in Rhode Island each year, a great number of them coming from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nicaragua and Syria.

BRYTE works with the Hasbro Children's Hospital's Refugee Health Clinic to connect with recently arrived refugee students — from kindergarten to 12th grade — who can benefit from the program. Each student is then paired with a BRYTE tutor who conducts in-house one-on-one tutoring for at least three hours each week.

Viva Voong ’26, a tutor and fundraising coordinator at BRYTE, said that she feels a part of her tutees’ family. While helping a 12th-grade boy and his six-year-old sister in advanced math and arithmetic, respectively, she’s been able to learn about their culture while sharing her own.


“I remember we were sitting on the couch and he was teaching me words in Arabic, and then I would tell him the Chinese word for dog, cat and tea,” said Voong. “Even though we come from such different places, it was a moment where I felt such a real connection.”

Voong, whose father came to the United States during the Vietnam War, said the program allows her “to combine both my identity as someone from a refugee family and my passion for tutoring.”

For Operations Coordinator Tiffney Aina ’25, the program has been more “meaningful and impactful” than she’d imagined. “My family’s from Nigeria,” she shared. “I know how different education is there. And I know how valuable something like BRYTE would be for people back home.”

Aina’s tutee, learning French and English, is five years old. “It’s really cool to see how excited she gets when I walk in the door,” said Aina. “And her dad is always texting me, ‘The kids want to see you! The kids want to see you!’” 

Samson Lemlem, the father of Aina’s tutee, praised the program extensively, describing BRYTE’s tutors as “attentive,” “prepared” and “very helpful.” Lemlem, whose wife Aster Belay immigrated from Djibouti in 2013, was the one who discovered the program and pushed for the enrollment of their daughter and son.

Lemlem said the impact of the tutors on his children’s education has been noticeable.“This has been a very good experience for us,” he said. 

BRYTE ensures volunteers are properly equipped with the resources and abilities to best support refugee youth, according to Voong. After an application and interview process, all volunteers attend a mandatory training session where they learn about the refugee resettlement process, assimilation and cultural competency, alongside general tutoring skills. Throughout the semester, additional training sessions feature what-would-you-do simulations and tutoring workshops.

Since the pandemic, the learning gap within the American educational system has only widened across marginalized communities. Voong noted that many tutees’ families didn’t have access to laptops or had to share one laptop among them, making remote learning especially difficult. BRYTE hopes to close this gap by helping students catch up on the material they were unable to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.  

The program currently has a “long waitlist” of refugee students looking to be paired, Voong explained. She said BRYTE is constantly looking for new tutors interested in joining to alleviate this demand and “reach more youth.”

“We’re working on a grant right now to get more funding,” Aina shared. Currently, most of the program’s funding comes from donor support and fundraising events held throughout the year. With more financial support, Aina hopes to expand BRYTE’s library initiative, which offers school supplies and laptops to tutees.


Aside from in-home tutoring, the program also hosts community-building events like dance workshops, a spring talent show and a science day. This year, BRYTE will be hosting an ice skating event on Feb 24, according to Aina.

Lemlem said he’d like to see even more of these events held throughout the year, especially in the winter. This was a small critique, though, he noted, adding that his daughter and son are “very excited” about the upcoming ice skating event this Saturday.

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Maya Nelson

Maya Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer covering the undergraduate student life beat. She’s interested in studying either English or literary arts and loves to read anything sci-fi/fantasy in her free time. She also enjoys playing guitar, crocheting and spending an unreasonable amount of time on NYT Spelling Bee.

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