Graduate helps kids overcome reading obstacles

January 28, 2022

Ambition Unleashed: Abdulai Bundu reads a book to a class of children

As part of his internship at New Haven Reads, Abdulai Bundu ’19 helped children learn to read while boosting their confidence. 

Bundu has a unique view of the world, after all.

At 6-foot-7, he often sees moments that others do not. On this particular day, Bundu walked into his internship at New Haven Reads, a literacy skills program serving that city’s children, and smiled widely and contagiously.

He saw boys and girls turning pages — and turning corners — as they read aloud to their volunteer tutors. The children came from different neighborhoods and different cultures. Many also spoke different languages, but together, these children were becoming better readers.

Bundu noticed a little boy sitting by himself in the corner crying. He was instantly drawn to the third-grader and went to console him.

“He told me, ‘I can’t read like everybody else.’ So I sat down and talked with him,” said Bundu, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and competed as a Division I student-athlete on the men’s basketball team. “We talked about what he could do, not what he couldn’t do.”

Bundu encouraged the boy to choose a first-grade book or a second-grade book. Together, they sounded out words and strung together sentences. Before very long, the tears were replaced by a giggle.

Bundu remembers the tears, too.

A native of Sierra Leone who escaped a bloody civil war and separation from his parents, Bundu immigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old. He knows how it feels to struggle, to fight for every syllable of literacy, to be the frustrated kid in the corner.

Most of all, Bundu knows how it feels to persevere. And succeed.

“I can see myself in their shoes a little bit,” Bundu said. “It’s important for them to understand that a setback isn’t the end of the world.”

Bundu credits Professor Cathy Solomon, chair of sociology, criminal justice and anthropology, as one of his most caring and influential professors. 

“Abdulai was a wonderful part of our sociology program,” Solomon said. “He was dedicated not only to the academic side of his education but also to making a difference in his community.”

Although Bundu wants to play professional basketball overseas next season, he doesn’t want to be seen as one-dimensional. After his playing career, Bundu hopes to pursue his MBA or MSW and start a business back home in Sierra Leone.

Maybe even, a business working with children.

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