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From New Arrival to Mayor's Intern: Seeing the IRC from Both Sides

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Rooha Haghar is a junior at Emmett J. Conrad High School. She spent this past summer as a Dallas Mayor's Intern Fellow. As the first high school student to intern at the IRC in Dallas’ office, we asked her to write about her experience both as a client and an intern with the IRC.

On November 2, Rooha spoke at the Rescue Dinner in New York City to represent refugee youth for the IRC.

 

My first day at the IRC was quite interesting. Five years ago, I came to this same exact office to translate for my dad, whose English was and still is broken. I used to be the client who had to sit in the lobby and wait. All I knew about the IRC was that lobby and our case worker, Daley. Little did I know that almost 5 years later, I would be spending most of my summer interning in the same office.

Not too long ago, I had to leave the only home I knew and step into the unknown. My family and I were granted refugee status in the year 2011 due to the persecution we faced in our beloved country of Iran. We are followers of the Baha’i faith, a religion that the Islamic Republic of Iran refuses to acknowledge to this day. We began our temporary life in Turkey well aware that sooner or later we would have to pack up our entire life once again.

Refugee Rooha Haghar starts her life over in Dallas, TX in 2012.
Rooha Haghar embraces her family upon her arrival to DFW airport in October 2012.

After 14 months of countless interviews and background checks, my family and I successfully completed the refugee resettlement security process. Soon enough our tired bodies boarded the Istanbul-to-DFW plane. Our hands held a one-way ticket to the land of the free. Our broken suitcases filled with memories of the life we had left behind and our hearts filled with hope for the future.

At DFW airport, we were greeted by my uncle and his wife. Seeing their familiar faces made me feel safe and secure. We loaded the car and headed to my uncle’s home. We stayed  at my uncle’s place for two or three nights, and then finally moved into our own apartment. For an entire week we slept during the day and were wide awake during the night; our bodies were not used to the sudden change in time zones. IRC found and furnished an apartment for us, helped take us to all our appointments, and enrolled my siblings and I in school.

Fortunately, we were resettled into a very diverse neighborhood known as Vickery Meadow. A great portion of Vickery Meadow’s population is made up of refugees and immigrants. Therefore, as a twelve year old refugee girl who did not understand a word of English, I did not have a difficult time in school. I remember being disappointed that American schools were nothing like High School Musical, but I learned to be grateful for my diverse school after hearing my best friend, who was resettled in the state of Oregon, complain about being the only refugee in her entire school!

I started serving the community with a group of Baha’i friends, and with the help of Netflix, my English slowly got better. After almost 5 years of living in the U.S, I am confident that life in America has been and will forever be a roller coaster ride. However, I did not know how truly blessed I was until I got to intern for the organization that gave my family and me a new chance in life.

Rooha smiling as a new junior in high school.
Rooha in Dallas in September 2017. Photo: Shakiba Kalantari

On the morning of June 12th, I returned to  the IRC’s office. I was quite nervous and had no idea what to expect. Knowing that I was the only high schooler interning at the Dallas office made me more nervous. But despite my fear, the first day of my internship went smoothly. I got to meet so many people; they all greeted me warmly and welcomed me to their office. I’ve always thought that office jobs are not for me, unless that office is Dunder Mifflin and Michael Scott is my boss. However, at the IRC there were so many things to learn and gain from the experience that I did not mind working behind a computer at all. I was very happy to be in Resource Development, because I was able to help with many donations appointments. I would always get a rush of feelings when I’d see newly-arrived refugees picking items out of our Donations Center. Around 5 years ago, we were the newly-arrived family looking for a TV amongst all the clothing and furniture at the IRC.

While the summer was filled with many fond memories of my first month in the office, it was also filled with a lot of hard work. During my summer internship, I was able to meet former President George W. Bush, help plan and attend a World Refugee Day celebration, give a speech about my life as a refugee to middle schoolers, and participate in an advocacy meeting with Texas Senator John Cornyn’s office .

For my big project, I was given the task of creating and administering a refugee youth survey to help the IRC understand gaps and better serve refugee youth needs. It was interesting to see youth around my age who had gone through a similar refugee resettlement experience answer questions about their goals and plans in life and how they believe they will get there. I was also blessed with the opportunity to share my survey findings with two different audiences: IRC’s staff and teachers/administrators from Dallas ISD and neighboring school districts.

Thanks to all the cool interns in Resource Development, I learned about college life and things to avoid and things to approach once I step foot into a university. Thanks to Alex and Adelina, I now know how to write thank you cards and emails. I know the work that goes into planning a big event and most importantly, I know what Blind CC is! Thank you Donna and Daley for allowing me to be a part of the IRC family, and thank you Alex for believing in me and being patient with me as I learned how an office works.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity and for the work that each and every IRC staff member does. I have learned how mentally tiring a job like that can be. Seeing a large portion of America’s population believe what you are doing is wrong, having politicians in power who are constantly trying to implement laws that will drastically and negatively affect your work, and working with a constant threat of cut to numbers and resources can drain one’s energy very quickly. With these circumstances in mind, to see people devote their life to this type of work because they believe it’s the right thing to do is inspiring.

 

Story by Rooha Haghar