How the Peer Mentorship & Tutoring Program Was Built

Peer Mentorship Program 1

The Institute for Myanmar United (IMU) worked collaboratively with the local Burmese population in the Syracuse, NY region, to create the Peer Mentorship & Tutoring Program. Together, we were able to identify that many Burmese high school students are not receiving the level of support they need to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. Many students face obstacles to academic success and achievement including at-home language barriers, lack of support preparing for standardized testing and college applications, and uncertainty whether they will be able to continue their educational journey.

The Peer Mentorship & Tutoring Program is a volunteer-driven program that aims to deconstruct these barriers by offering a sustainable after-school program specifically for the Burmese community to provide students of all ages with opportunities to receive and provide academic assistance.

In this blog post, we want to share a behind-the-scenes look at the people, places, and events that made this program possible.

An Inevitable Friendship

“Our success in this endeavor, I am finding, is dependent on so many variables. Some of these variables lie directly within our realm of influence, while others undoubtedly exist far, far beyond. Whether by luck, or coincidence, or fate, or destiny, however, we again and again are being connected with these pieces in ways that never seem quite short of miraculous.”

—Jeremy Brewster, Institute for Myanmar United

In the beginning, the work of IMU was carried out completely overseas. In February of 2021, a Military Coup took place in Burma which would consequently prevent us from continuing to do so. Despite initially struggling to find a new purpose, we remained determined, believing in both the power and the potential of our assemblance. Inevitably, these efforts would lead us to Jacob Ngawi.

Introducing Jacob

Jacob Ngawi is from Matupi in the Chin State of Myanmar. In 2010, Jacob and his family left Myanmar and made their way to Syracuse as refugees. Currently, Jacob is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute. As Jacob attends college, he also works hard within the community in an effort to better the lives of fellow refugees.

Our First Challenge

In developing a relationship with Jacob, we were granted insights into the local Burmese community. Over several dinners, he shared with us some of the challenges that he and others face as refugees in Syracuse. Amongst these challenges, one emerged as being a primary concern.

“Everything comes down to education. Despite the programs that are in place, many refugee students still struggle with academics and instead of seeking additional help, they often drop out. This creates a snowball effect which leads to many additional challenges for themselves, their families, and the community in general.” 


A Proposed Solution

Drawing on our background in Creative Problem Solving, IMU recognized the aforementioned challenge as being an opportunity. Over several more dinners, we leveraged this perspective and worked with Jacob to develop a potential solution. Before long, the idea for a Burmese Peer Mentorship and Tutoring Program was born.

As a means of addressing the academic challenges faced by refugee students and to consequently help facilitate their personal and professional success, IMU proposed a Burmese Peer Mentorship and Tutoring Program.

Forming Connections: Zauja

As we began to develop our program, we recognized the need for a space in which to house it. Jacob, being both well respected and well connected within the refugee community, suggested that we meet with Rev. Zauja Lahtaw – the Senior Pastor of the Syracuse Myanmar Baptist Church. The Syracuse Myanmar Baptist Church would become the hosting location for the Peer Mentorship & Tutoring Program.

Launching the Program

After a few months of planning and a lot of hard work by everyone involved with the program, the Peer Mentorship & Tutoring Program held its first session on March 7, 2022. This session served as an introductory meeting for the team and program participants to start building the foundational goals to ensure a successful program.

“We are so excited to officially launch this program. After adapting on the fly a little over a year ago, we are working together with the Burmese community in Syracuse to create an academic assistance program to empower the students in the community with education.”

To learn more about the Peer Mentorship and Tutoring Program, view our program page: Peer Mentorship and Tutoring Program – Myanmar United.

To make a donation to the program, please view our GoFundMe page below. Your contribution will provide the funding to ensure these students have an exceptional and safe experience during the program.

The Institute for Myanmar United was created in 2020 to release the power of human creativity to help individuals, communities, and nations reclaim their freedom, unity, and hope.