Atlanta Magazine - February 2011 - Global Village School
February 2011

It Takes a Village

A Decatur school helps teen refugees adjust
By Christine Van Dusen

NeLa, It Takes a Village, February 2011When asked her name, the fourteen-year-old girl working on a wad of chewing gum says it’s Ne La. She wants to be a doctor. Then she nearly swallows the gum and bursts into giggles with her friends.

This scene from an upcoming documentary may seem typical for a teenager, but it represents something of a victory for Ne La.

The girl, a native of Burma, struggled for eight years in a Thai refugee camp before fleeing to America with her family and eventually enrolling in a DeKalb County school. Like other refugee children—some torn from their families, many unable to read or write, most having witnessed atrocities—she felt lost.

Now Ne La is a safe, literate, and light-hearted student at the Global Village School, located inside Decatur Presbyterian Church. The two-year-old, first-of-its-kind program is funded by the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and other groups. Its staff includes former founders of the International Community School, a DeKalb charter elementary school. Instructors teach academic and life skills to about thirty refugee girls ages thirteen to twenty from places such as Eritrea, Somalia, Afghanistan, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Iraq, and Liberia.

“Everyone is equal,” says Bertha, a fifteen-year-old whose family escaped the ethnic conflict in Congo. “You can get the individual attention that you need.”

Says Grace Hawkins, executive director, “It’s a different world here. We want to help the girls be successful and speed them forward, then create a model for others.”

Photograph by Kendrick Brinson