El Cajon

San Diego teenager starts summer camp for refugee kids in El Cajon

A few years ago, Aiden Afshar started a free online tutoring program for refugees, which eventually expanded into in-person summer camps

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Saturday was the last day of a summer camp for refugees in El Cajon. But it's just the beginning of the story these kids share.

Many escaped with their families from several countries, including Afghanistan.

When the Taliban took over in 2021, children like Elham Atayi and his brother Mohammad started a new life as refugees in San Diego.

"Back in Afghanistan, he would spend a lot of time playing, flying a kite. He would eat some ice cream, you know, doing what kids do," Mohammad's translator said. "His favorite thing is here. We have these little remote-controlled cars, and he likes to play with them."

The young man behind the summer camp is 17-year-old Aiden Afshar.

"There's so little opportunity because most of them don't speak fluent English, and their skillsets are often very limited," Afshar said.

A few years ago, Afshar started a free online tutoring program for refugees, which eventually expanded into in-person summer camps.

This is a cause very near and dear to his heart — both of his parents immigrated to San Diego from Iran.

Now, this camp has allowed the kids to forge a special bond over their shared experiences that not many others can relate to.

The kids are not the only ones benefiting from the program, so are the volunteer tutors. 

"I've gotten really close, especially with this one little girl Josefine. I've gotten really close with her throughout these weeks, and hopefully I get to see them again," Emma Banaie, one of the tutors, said.

Afshar, along with the non-profit organization License to Freedom, have been helping refugees get a new lease on life in the U.S. for a few years now.

In addition to online tutoring, Afshar says they also teach refugees computer science to help them on a potential new career path.

He hopes this program not only gives kids some peace of mind while adjusting to their new lives, but also provides the next generation with a brighter path forward.

"We've seen a big change in just their demeanor and just how comfortable they are here," he said.

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