The University at Albany Foundation
UAB 226 – Michelle Mahon
1400 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12222
Thank you Aden Suchak for the video!
Why do we want to start a scholarship for refugee students?
For those who don’t know me, my name is Brian Huskie. I’m a teacher in an urban school district and as of this writing I’ve been there for eight years, five of which I’ve taught English Language Learners. Before teaching I was in the Army, and in 2004 I was in Iraq. Here I am just over a decade ago:
I was with one other soldier at a traffic control point when two Iraqi kids came over to talk to us. Here they are:
They wanted to go buy kabobs for us and charge us triple for them. They also wanted our bullets so they could scrape the bullet off and light the gun powder. We teased them for a few minutes, haggling over kabobs and lighting matches. The older one tried to get us to give him a grenade for a couple of kabobs. The soldier who was with me, in the picture above, pretended to throw the grenade. He didn’t even have it in his hand…it was in good fun…but the younger one ran (stumbled, really) into the weeds and started crying. He was bawling. He wouldn’t let anyone near him. I took off my helmet and gave up my gun and brought the kid a Gatorade. He whirled around and hugged me, and we hugged in the weeds for a long time. When I hug my four year old I sometimes feel that little Iraqi boy’s ribs. Then he showed me the scars on his leg. He had been burned from his ankle to his thigh. He was covered in scars. He made a machine gun noise, pointed to his leg, and said “Amerikee!” That was eleven years ago. If the kid is still alive, he’d be 18 or so.
Like a bad movie, fireworks on the Fourth of July made my heart race something fierce, at least the first few years after I came back. Then, with time, it faded, and I moved on. Until last Fourth of July. I was with my family on Montauk beach watching the fireworks and my youngest, 2 years old, was terrified. He tried to run away high up on a sand dune. I ran after him, caught him, picked him up and tried to console him. The kid just went limp. My son didn’t move, didn’t make a sound, and just fell asleep, almost instantly. All of a sudden I was back, kicking in doors and raiding homes. In one, there stood a man, he might have been affiliated with Al Qaeda, who knows…but he had a son under the age of five in the upstairs room. There was shooting and yelling, and the kid just slept. I picked him up and brought him to his mother, and although he was unhurt he wouldn’t wake up. He just went limp.
Then there is this moment that I relive in my nightmares . We took over a hospital and, after a day of fighting, a man brought his son in. The son was obviously dead…maybe 7 or 8 years old. He was flopping around in his dad’s arms. The father was laughing uncontrollably – maniacally. I never forgot it.
Refugees are close to my heart. I have students now who are teenagers who were in Iraq when I was there eleven years ago. When I see my students I see the crowds of little kids who begged for pencils and candy; I see the kids who walked to school until they canceled school so we could fight. I broke their desks to burn to keep warm in December, and our sniper took a position in an elementary classroom. I see the boy whose leg was burned, and the little limp sleeper who had guns pointed at him, and the laughing dad. I see them in my own kids, somehow. It haunts me.
These kids from Iraq, as well as refugees from other places in the Middle East, Africa, Burma, and Nepal, didn’t choose to have war or persecution happen to them. They didn’t choose the actions of their countries or of ours. They all have their own stories, but somehow, they made it here. They have an obligation to make the most out of their lives, and they know it. It’s a second chance many don’t get. What are they going to do with this new life they were given?
We want this scholarship fund to help refugees pay for college, and we are asking for your help. We need a minimum of $25,000 for an endowment, which would give a small scholarship every single year, forever. I would like to reach $100,000…that’s our goal. Any little bit helps. Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to e-mail or post below. Thank you again!
Refugee Students from Albany High
My name is Ayat. I’m 19 years old and from Iraq. I lived and studied in Iraq until 2005. I went to Ebn Majid School in Baghdad. And like almost every other student, I tried very hard to get good grades and make my parents proud.
After the war in 2003 everything I knew changed. I rarely went to school; it was closed most of the times in the beginning. My school was next to three targeted places: a mosque for Sunni people, Husainia (where Shea people pray), and a police station. I still remember most of the explosions happened and I still remember how we prayed for the student’s and friends that we lost. One day that I will never forget was when they bombed the police station and the windows broke upon our heads. Everyone was running and screaming. It’s both funny and scary how everything you said you would do to protect your home becomes nothing when it comes to your life. However, I couldn’t run further than the school’s wall because I was looking my younger sister. I thought I lost her. I cried and asked for help but everyone was busy saving their lives because usually one explosion is not enough. My sister is way stronger than me. She came laughing and asking why I didn’t run home. I think she was taking it like a game. I took her hand and we ran home like everyone did.
They stopped closing the schools when people got use to the sound of explosions and many kids already knew how dead bodies look like. Sometimes, when something explodes in the morning, we just wait until noon to go to school and hear the principle’s speech. She always mentions how brave and strong we are and how the future of the country depends on us. I think it always worked because every kid likes to feel like a superhero. I left Iraq two years after. And never went back.
My dad took us to the United Arab Emirates. We found peace in there but as refugees we couldn’t have the rights that other people had. Many refugees couldn’t stay long because no one wanted us there. They made every day harder than the one before and it was also expensive to live there. I went to night school with my sister and my dad had to work three jobs to pay for it. Soon we found that there is no way we can live there.
So we moved to Jordan in 2009. And as almost everyone who lived there can say, it is expensive and there were no jobs. We had to live in a small place in the attic of some building. But at least we didn’t have to pay for our education. The schools there were dirty, so cold in winter, and as I remember most of the classes had 45 students in it. Sometimes you can’t breathe. Students, including me, lived what I like to call “psychological war”. They keep repeating that their life will end if they didn’t get an average above 90. And for some it did end. It’s hard when your future is decided by a single percentage point like it did for students in Jordan.
When I reached the 12th grade I had to drop high school. It wasn’t free anymore and my dad couldn’t afford it or the books. I think that’s the point when I started hating anyone who doesn’t respect a book because I’ve always felt that books should be in reach of every human’s hand. I still remember how much I cried and prayed to get a chance to finish high school. After all, I was raised with the idea that education is the only way to get a good, respectful life. My dad always used to say to me and my two sisters “If I can’t give you money and a life like princesses have, I will try my best to educate you to get it for yourselves, and that is my inheritance for you “. He did his best and still does.
When I struggled in both UAE and Jordan, I couldn’t always feel it because I calmed myself with saying I’ve seen worse. My Family and I were blessed and lucky because America accepted us. I will never forget the moment we arrived the JFK Airport. All the fire, pain and chaos in my heart stopped; finally we found a place that we can call a second home.
I want to study Aerospace Engineering. And I want to have the chance to make up all the bad years that my family been through. This is just a small sample of what refugees face in their lives. I want to say that life isn’t easy to all of us, but if you have a home, and a chance to educate yourself, then love it, appreciate it and try your best to protect it. Because somewhere on this planet there are many people who just want to reach their home in one piece, and many other people who need a little money, not to buy a pair of shoes, but to buy books. And believe it or not I’m certain that all of them wish to have the life that you have. Because I once did.
My name is Bhim. I was born in Bhutan, but my earliest memories are from a refugee camp in eastern Nepal. The Camp was a city made of plastic and tin huts built with ever present mud and bamboo stems. I spent 15 years of my life there. I have many memories there with my beautiful family and parents.
I also faced a lot of obstacles during my time in the refugee camp. We lived in a hut made of bamboo and sun dried molded bricks; the roof was made of plastic and bamboo sticks. Our bathroom was a hole on the ground right outside of the house. There was not much privacy. Other family members could easily see you bare parts. My house was not that strong either. The slightest wind or rain used to wreak havoc on our existence. It used to rain for months during the summer.
In the refugee camp, we had limited access to health care, and although what we had was free, there used to be a long line to see a doctor. Many people with fevers and other deadly diseases needed to wait for days before they could be seen by the doctor. He was a medically trained person, but we used to call him “doctor” because he was the only one we had seen around there prescribing medicine to patients.
One day we learned that the United States was letting people in the camp apply for immigration to the United States. My parents were in doubt, initially, but once we heard about the better life in the USA, they jumped at the chance to move and applied for immigration. Moving to a new country with a new language, culture, and lifestyle was not easy. We knew very little and were a bit afraid. It made us very nervous and concerned. We knew we would be starting a life from scratch in another country.
We were driven from Bhutan for being of an ethnicity and religion that was different from that of the King, even though my family had lived in Bhutan for four generations and long before the collapse of the British Empire. After living in Nepal as a refugee, as a nationless being, we embarked on the journey to a destination with hope, but nothing else. We heard about terrible stories from people who had arrived in the U.S. before us. They were facing a very difficult life. My family still had nightmarish memories of dragging little kids out of Bhutan, leaving the land and life they had built. We thought we were repeating the same saga once again. Along with the decision to immigrate to the U.S., we also gave up any hope of returning to our land and house in Bhutan.
Even after I got to the U.S.A. I was scared. I do not know what I was scared of, but it took years before that fear went away. I knew no rules and regulations. I was struggling at school with all new subject matter, language, and style. At the same time, I was amazed when I saw so many different kinds of people. I quickly learned diversity was not unique to my home town, but true of every city in U.S. I became more comfortable with the language, culture, and rules. I started to make friends. Life suddenly felt much better; my parents and teachers played a critical role in making this happen. I am really thankful to them. I am extremely happy with what I have achieved, but I know that I have just started my journey.
My name is Malak, I’m 18 years old student in Albany high, and I’m originally from Iraq. I left my country in 2006 and I didn’t go back, not even for a visit.
Me and people from my country have been through a lot since the war started. Life wasn’t easy at all. I still remember my friend, Rania, who went to shop for school supplies with her father when all of a sudden a bomb exploded next to them and turned them into pieces. That was a horrible thing to see and live with for anybody, especially to a 7 years old girl like me.
We were deprived of our basic rights, we spent long days and nights without stepping outside from my house because we were afraid of the explosions that were happening, and we also stopped going to school for months because of the battles that happened in Baghdad. There were two strategic places next to my school, a mosque and a police station, which were always bombed. And sometimes in the days that an explosion happens, we do go to school, but delayed for 2 hours.
So after all these events, we were forced to leave Baghdad and go to UAE. We faced many obstacles in the 5 years that we lived there. The high cost of visa, lodging, and school, we were simply unwelcomed as refugees to stay and live there, so we moved to Jordan only for one reason, to come to America. We lived there for 5 years, and because we were not citizens, we couldn’t work and if we did, we would go to jail or be sent back to Iraq, which was a certain fate of death.
We’ve been through a harsh circumstances, we couldn’t afford the expensive life there; luckily the schools were free, except for the 12th grade which we have to pay. We couldn’t afford that so we had to leave school for a year. Until the day we all waited for, the refugees organization (IOM) called us and said: your flight to Albany, New York will be in April 8, does this date works for you? We couldn’t agree more, or be happier. It was the best moment of my life.
So here I am, I’m here for almost a year, and I’m so grateful to be alive, to come to this great country, with my ambition to be a pharmacist one day. But I know that whatever happens, my family and I will be safe and have opportunities that we wouldn’t otherwise have, opportunities that are still just a beautiful dream to a lot of people, just like it was to us.
Hi! My name is Saw Pre Pre…ok! I was born in Burma, Mon state (not Karen state). Because of the war my parents were worried if I was born in Karen state that there would not be a nurse to help. Also, my mother might not have had time to give birth because of running from Burmese soldiers. I think you can already picture it in your head. Look…when I was young my life wasn’t fulfilled and I didn’t get what I wanted – basically food, education, clothes. If I were to compare American kids and refugee kids they are oil and water.
I didn’t live in a refugee camp, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a refugee…I’m a REFUGEE from BURMA!!! Who has run from the Burmese military, who has attacked the Karen people. My school was like a living room, a tiny tiny living room. You know when I lived there I saw many students in school buses with their beautiful uniforms, but I had the unlucky curse of being a refugee, and they didn’t allow us to attend a citizen’s school. Because of the education I’m so upset, I feel down, all the time when my parents look at me their sympathy goes out to me.
At that time we are registered to come to America but my mom is scared because of the new strange STRANGE STRANGE place. In the US, there are different living styles, food, culture, etc…OK!!! Let me ask you, have you ever thought of going to a strange place to live? How does that feel? Because my mom was nervous! Finally, I can go to school without any sadness, because here in Albany High School we can learn along with the citizens, and everyone is equal in speech and freedoms.
My name is Sara Mohamed. I am 16 years old and I am Libyan Sudanese. My parents are from Sudan and me and my siblings were born in Libya. I have one sister and two brothers, and I am the youngest. One of my brothers is in Egypt and my sister and other brother…I don’t know where they are.
Life in Libya was so easy and everything was cheap. School is so different in my country. I really love school so it was so easy for me to be good. For me when I was first going to school I felt like I was going to an amusement park. But for some other kids it’s like going to war and that’s true because if you are going to war and you know how to use your brain or your gun then you’ll definitely die. School was the same because if you didn’t study hard and score high then you’ll get beaten by a wire and sometimes a stick. So you always compete with your classmates and your best friends to be the best of the best.
Back in Libya we didn’t have medical insurance. You pay for yourself from your own pocket, but for other injuries it’s free, all you have to do is buy your medicine. In February 2011 Libyan started their violent protest against the president. At that time my dad was in another country and my brothers and sister went to visit my aunt. So it was only me and my mom. Living in a house with an open ceiling living room so when they fight outside we can hear them right in front of the house. We slept in on room and locked the door on us during the night and when we open the door in the morning there were hundreds of bullets everywhere, every day for two months. For two months we only went shopping twice. I use to dress like a boy so nobody asks me something because during that time they kidnapped hundreds of kids, women, and even little girls, and rape them and kill them. That’s why I even cut my hair like a boy – no one could recognize me. It was really risky going out alone but if I didn’t we could have died from starving. After that the atmosphere calmed down a little bit so my dad came and decided to go to Egypt, but we couldn’t contact my siblings so we just went to Egypt and stayed at a refugee camp located between Libya and Egypt’s border. We stayed there for almost 4 years.
We lived in a house that was made of sand, blankets, plastic, and wood. We made them by ourselves. We had three meals a day for each and a bottle of water. I use to keep all the water and sell it so I could buy us good food to eat. Finally after 4 years I came here to the US. I was really happy that I left that scary place, but it was really different from my country. My country is so loud. When in the streets you see a lot of kids playing, people walking, you hear loud music from stores and car horns. Everything was loud, but here is so quiet.
When I first came I didn’t really speak English very well. I only knew how to say “My name is Sara”, “help me”, and a few words. Sometimes I feel bad because when I ask people walking on the street about the time or to give me directions they would walk away from me. I didn’t know why, I thought maybe because of how I dressed. Other times people were really curious – they asked me about my hijab and my country and sometimes about my religion. I didn’t really feel homesick then.
The school here is really good. You have the opportunity to choose your classes and teachers are very good – and of course, there are no beatings! I didn’t have any problems at school, everyone is so nice.
After I graduate from High School I want to go to college and study even harder than now and become a good doctor. It has been my dream since I was a little girl because I really like helping others, it makes me so happy. But sometimes I feel like being a lawyer to help seek justice because in so many places in the world there is a lot of unfairness. After all, all I really want to do is help people.