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Newton high schoolers tutor Tibetan students in English online

While tutoring her younger cousin who lives in Tibet and was struggling with her English classes, Newton South junior Neena Tarafdar said she noticed some Tibetan youth are secluded with limited opportunities to talk with native English speakers.

In response, Tarafdar founded “The Lotus Project” out of her Newton home this summer to partner Tibetan kids with Newton high schoolers for virtual, weekly tutoring lessons in English language learning on the video messaging platform WeChat.

“Tibetan students in general are in many ways disadvantaged when you compare them to students at the same age in other countries, in just having access to educational resources, such as tutoring itself, but also connection with the international community,” she said.

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The project, Tarafdar said, focuses on providing Tibetan youth with opportunities to learn English from Newton youth through practicing conversations, writing prompts and reading children’s books. As it became more popular, Tarafdar said, with her cousin’s help she decided to take on more students.

Currently there are a total of 12 tutors in the program, who all speak Chinese and meet with one to two students a week on WeChat to go over lessons, share experiences and learn about one another’s cultures. She said it also fosters multicultural exchange as tutors and mentees “get to know each other and what it’s like to live across the planet.”

Linda Xue, a tutor and outreach officer at the Lotus Project and longtime friend of Tarafdar, said having parents who are both immigrants from China motivated her to get involved.

“The Lotus Project is a great organization with the opportunity to help people who are less fortunate than us,” Xue said.

A lot of the lesson plans she designed for the program, Tarafdar said, came from prior experience she had helping her cousin with English homework, in addition to other tutoring she does at her high school. She said she loves seeing the Tibetan students progress.

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“I thought it was really inspiring to see how motivated and inspiring these kids are,” Tarafdar said.

Tarafdar said she likes to propose initiatives that align with her passion for “promoting diversity and inclusion.” In addition to this project, she said she co-runs “Aspirations in Medicine” at her high school, a club for students interested in health science, and helped out with her school’s program “Courageous Conversations on Race.”

Tarafdar said having the opportunity to embrace her multicultural identity and share it with others “is a blessing.” She said she envisions expanding the Lotus Project by bringing in more students to tutor who are non-Chinese speakers as well.

“I think with education you can do pretty much anything, like that’s the steppingstone to creating a more equal society,” she said.