In the summer after her freshman year, Mariam F. Eskander ’05 struggled to get through to an eight-year-old named John.
She taught the student while volunteering for Boston Refugee Youth Enrichment (BRYE), a summer program sponsored by the Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA).
John was bright and capable, she says, but suffered from anger management problems.
“The entire summer he would shut down on me so I thought I wasn’t getting through to him at all,” she says.
The next year, Eskander came back and found John placed in her class again. But this time, things were different, and, to Eskander’s surprise, she and John developed a better relationship. “Mariam has been my teacher for two years and she’s my favorite teacher,” he wrote in an assignment.
While Eskander was surprised by John’s development in her class, those who know her wouldn’t be.
Daniel B. Weissman ’05, who has volunteered at BRYE with Eskander, says Eskander “really does stand out in her relationships with kids in the program.” “They just love her,” he says. “They see that she has this sense that the relationship is two ways and she really values them.”
Eskander taught with BRYE for three summers and directed its term-time program for two years. During the one summer she did not teach at BRYE, she served on the board of PBHA, overseeing many of the group’s service programs. She will teach at BRYE again this summer.
Through BRYE she currently mentors a 10-year-old student from Vietnam and a 15-year-old from Afghanistan. She has given up some administrative roles in the organization to spend more time with the students.
“[BRYE] changed me from a person who likes to do service to a person whose life is service,” Eskander says. “Service is not about helping people. It’s about working with people.”
Eskander’s service record extends beyond BRYE. Throughout the past four years, she has worked with people of all ages, including some drug-addicted and mentally ill guests at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter.
Her freshman year, Eskander covered the overnight shift; she has stayed at the shelter from 6 p.m. to midnight on Friday nights every week since her sophomore year.
“The biggest part is about the interactions between guests and students,” she says. “I feel like the benefits go both ways.”
At one point, her boyfriend begged her to stop working at the shelter because of the stress it caused her. But Eskander stayed on. “People couldn’t understand that’s where your heart is,” she says. “That’s what made me happy.”
Eskander’s heart was not always in community service. As a member of the Key Club community service program at her high school in California, Eskander was “blacklisted” because she didn’t finish her service hours.