Abida Amin: A Success in the Heart of Texas
One could easily mistake Abida Amin, sixteen years old and in the 10th grade, as just another student in an American public high school. She walks around in jeans with a sling backpack, marked with an easy smile that is framed by a shroud covering her hair. It would be hard to guess that this “A” student is a recent arrival to our schools and our communities, from a place whose bleak history we have all come to know: Afghanistan.
Abida was only five years old when she and her family, along with thousands of other refugees fleeing the ravages of war, moved to Pakistan. Left there is the memory of her father, who passed away when Abida was very young. Her mother guided Abida and her brothers through Pakistan, and eventually to the United States. They arrived just six months ago.
There were some changes in store for Abida. She admits that although she studied hard, she found American coursework very challenging. Besides this, she has a lot of responsibility at home. Her mother speaks very little English, and it has become Abida’s responsibility to help her mother communicate in this new society.
Abida found support through the Houston-based Alliance for Multicultural Services’ Refugee Youth Empowerment Project, funded by IRC's Community Collaboratives for Refugee Women and Youth. The project places refugee youth and prepares them for summer employment. Abida was seeking assistance for an assignment in her Speech class. The site’s program leader, Krishna Singh, was the first person to help Abida. Because of the success of this first meeting, Abida agreed to come back. She began to come regularly, asking for assistance with several subjects. As a reward, she would show us her report cards, which were beginning to reveal remarkable improvement. Within time, Abida began asking the after school counselors if they needed help. Abida became a valuable aid to another after school program run by the Alliance, assisting in the computer lab and the reading club for elementary students. At this point, she was also beginning to earn A’s in school. Abida was ready for summer employment. She didn’t know it, but there was an interview lined up for her to be a tutor at a nearby after school program. It seems that the site leader had heard of her and wanted her to tutor elementary school students. Abida was ready to play teacher!
Abida is grateful, she says, to have a place to go after school instead of staying at home. Reflecting on the opportunities for development and leadership she has been afforded in her school and community, Abida says, “When my teacher chose me to be a debater in my school, I didn't believe it. Nothing is too hard. Nothing is impossible in this world.”
Programs like the Refugee Youth Empowerment Project make a story like Abida’s possible. The staff at the tutoring project is happy to have Abida with them.
Community Collaboratives thanks Wilson Limpo and Cris Colaneri of the Alliance Multicultural Center for Community Services for their contributions to this story.