When Rafael was just 7 years old, his family moved from the Philippines to Canada. They landed in Edmonton and Rafael started Grade 2 in September at McKee Elementary only knowing a few words of English.
He struggled to keep up in class, and his reading and writing skills were understandably well below his grade level. He didn’t have any friends; kids in his class would make fun of him because he couldn’t understand them, and often he would sit in the corner and try not to cry. That’s when his teachers referred him to Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs). By November that year, he had a mentor.
Mohit, Rafael’s Big Brother, would go into McKee once a week to help Rafael work on his English language skills. They would read books together, work on homework, and slowly they got to know each other quite well.
In Grade 4, Rafael also had the opportunity to join the EXCEL Program™. Started by Mohit with support from BGCBigs as a way to help other kids and provide Rafael extra support, EXCEL provides homework assistance and mentorship to students who may struggle with their schoolwork.
After a couple years of dedication Rafael became a confident English speaker and was on par with the rest of his class in the reading and writing department. With help from Mohit and his teachers, Rafael reached a tremendous goal!
Then he set his sights higher.
At the beginning of his Grade 6 year, Mohit and Rafael were still meeting regularly to work on homework and hangout. It was then Rafael confided his hopes for his future with Mohit.
“He was telling me that he wants to go to Harvard one day,” Mohit shares. “That’s a big aspiration for a kid who is only in Grade 6. His family came to Edmonton with virtually no money and they’re not well-to-do. Rafael wants to get a good education so he can support his mom and brother and sister.”
Together, they decided to figure out how to get help Rafael get there. The first thing they could do was get Rafael into a really good Junior High. With help from McKee’s teachers and principal and Rafael’s mom Shera, they researched, went to open houses, and helped Rafael pick a school that would help foster his academic and leadership skills.
They settled on one of the best schools in Edmonton. But it wasn’t as simple as just deciding it was the one. There was an intensive application process they had to get Rafael through.
Their weekly mentoring sessions became focused on helping Rafael improve his grades, put together writing samples and math tests, and practice for an interview at the school. He got in!
In September 2016, Rafael started Grade 7 at his new impressive junior high school. Mohit, Shera, and everyone at McKee and BGCBigs couldn’t be more proud of him.
Now, Rafael and Mohit spend their time talking about fitting in at a new school, girlfriends, and future careers.
According to his mom, Shera, being part of BGCBigs has helped Rafael a lot. “It’s built confidence in him. He’s learned so much and now he can stand on his own without hesitating that he can also be like the other kids.”
“The biggest change I’ve seen in Rafael over the years is in his maturity and insight,” Mohit says. “He used to focus on learning the English language, and now he’s focused on learning the meaning of life, and on living it.”by