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Youth voices: Passing the kindness forward

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Alice in her family's first apartment in America.

Written by Alice Innocent

I was raised in Lukole refugee camp in Tanzania after my parents fled the Rwandan Genocide.  At age seven, my family received word that we were granted entrance to America.   

On the first night in America, we met an IRC volunteer at the airport. Her name was Reda. She was average height, had dark curls, and smiled with her eyes. She had a soft voice that carried an accent in certain words. I remember the beaming lights as Reda took us from the airport to our new apartment in Dallas. That night, I sat in my mother’s lap and promised her I would make something of myself with the opportunities given to me.  I was finally going to go to school. 

As my family acclimated to our new home, Reda was always there. She was caring, vibrant, patient, and really helped my family through the first months of our transition to America. She taught my mother how to cook our first meal on the stove, signed us up for school, and gave us our first real American experiences. She took us to the movies, parks, museums, and taught us how to swim. Reda didn’t speak the same language as my family. In fact, I remember her speaking another language to our neighbors, a language I would later discover was Arabic. Even though we had trouble communicating effectively, she showed me that language, race, or origin, were never on her mind. I credit her generosity, care, benevolence, and overall compassion to the person I am today. 

Alice, as the Vice President of the Black Student Organization, receiving the award for Student Organization Program of the Year at Richland College.

Since those first few months with Reda, I have been exploring ways that I could give back to my community, just like she gave to my family. As a high school senior, my capstone project focused on discovering barriers immigrants and refugees face when they move to America. I worked on policies affecting immigrants and refugees as an intern at the City of Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs, shadowed lawyers at the Summer Law Intern Program, and taught refugee youth at the afterschool program Heart House. Throughout all of these experiences, I was able to apply my passion and discovered that this was more than just a hobby, it was what I wanted to do with my life. That’s why last fall, I began my studies at Texas Tech University, majoring in International Relations.  

When I started at Tech, I had to pick a language to minor in. While I am already proficient in my native tongues, I thought back on my arrival and how someone from the Middle East supported a newly arrived Burundian family—I chose Arabic. As the Syrian crisis continues to worsen, my goal is to work in Jordan to help manage, resettle, and provide relief to the refugees that have been impacted. Being able to connect with the refugee families in Jordan will be a silent thank you to Reda and my way of passing the kindness forward.

Alice and her family were resettled by the IRC in Dallas in 2007. Since her arrival, Alice has made it her mission to give back to refugees from all over the world. Though her summer plans to work with refugees in Jordan have been cancelled, Alice will still be assisting families right here in Dallas by interning with the IRC.