My name is Rania Dali. I am a freshman at Bryn Mawr College and this is my first semester taking part in the Big Sisters Program. I became acquainted with the program through one of my friends, Jacquelyn Arroyo, who is also a member and as soon as I knew the purpose it served I wanted to join.
Every Friday afternoon, six of us Big Sisters with our wonderful program coordinators, Inés Arribas and Julien Suaudeau, drive to Willard Elementary to spend time with our Little sisters. We start our time together with an icebreaker, then move on to reading and writing, before wrapping up with a game chosen by the Little sisters. I remember the first time I went to Willard and met my Little sister, Aaliyah. She was a shy young girl and looked afraid to voice her opinions. But, as soon as we were given the ice-breaker topic, she opened up to me about her family members and school. I was taken aback by the fact that she was willing to trust me but I also instantly knew she is brilliant and has a lovely sense of humor.
Aaliyah loves reading and every time we read she explores a new genre of books. She takes risks and challenges herself without me having to push her. She always picks books that are at a reading level higher than the one she is accustomed to – books with words she hasn’t learned yet. At first, I was unaware of the words she didn’t understand, but as our relationship developed she started asking me for definitions and I also became able to pick up signs of when she is struggling. We developed our own little activity each time we came across a word she didn’t understand: we search up the definition and relate it to the illustrations in the book rather than the sentence it belongs to and see in what other instances the word fits in the book.
During ice-breakers, the Little sisters often write a list or a couple of sentences and then share them with the rest of the group if they choose to. Often, the Little sisters are intimidated by the setting and ask their Big sister to share on their behalf. During our recent session, however, I asked Aaliyah if she wanted to share her production and she accepted. When it was her turn, I looked at her and she nodded and faced everyone around the table to share her favorite memory from Thanksgiving break. Seeing Aaliyah come out of her comfort zone and gain confidence filled my heart with joy. It’s these moments that make Big Sisters a wonderful program and prove that anyone can grow and reach their goals if there is someone believing in them.