Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America

Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America

The mission of Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America (FORA) is to ensure that refugee families are provided access to an education sufficient to prepare them to become economically self-sufficient and robustly engaged in American civic life.

Michael O'Connor, Co-Founder, explains a math problem to a student on the whiteboard in FORA's learning center.  Photo by Chuck Berman.

Easing the Transition to the American Educational System

Forging Opportunities for Refugees in America

Dr. Kathleen O'Connor, President of FORA, meets students during quarantine.  Photo by Chuck Berman.


FORA was established in 2019 to address an urgent and pervasive issue: newly arrived refugee children enter the United States with little-to-no knowledge of the English language and low-to-no literacy in their primary language. Because of this undereducation, many refugee children enter the American educational system with academic capabilities far below their age-determined grade level, unable to read in any language or perform basic math skills. English Second Language (ESL) programs in the United States are not designed for entirely illiterate students; thus, the students that FORA serves would potentially otherwise be left behind academically and become socially isolated from their peers.

FORA operates a learning center in Chicago that provides resources to support refugee children and their families during their transition to and throughout their American educational process. The learning center hosts lessons for each student for two hours a day, five days a week, and each tutor is paired with no more than two students to maximize the personalized nature of the lessons. FORA tutors also directly collaborate with each student's teachers to assist in the completion of appropriate homework assignments and determine which assignments are beyond the student's current ability level. Additionally, FORA offers programs for mothers to learn to read and write in English.

What began in 2019 with 10 students has rapidly expanded into a full-scale operation, with hundreds of volunteers providing 2,500 hours of tutoring each month. Of the 60 students FORA served in 2020, the large majority are Rohingya Muslim refugees who experienced and fled ethnic cleansing and genocide.

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