Sharifah Shakirah: A Voice for Her People
By Maia Morenoff //
The Rohingya have been facing genocide since 1998. When Sharifah Shakirah first started her journey of activism, it was 2012, and still not many people knew what was happening to the Rohingya. Sharifah had the opportunity to speak to others about herself and her people in the United Nations with the local community in Messiah. She had the opportunity to educate people on what was happening to the Rohingya, and she decided to take it. Doing so got her thinking that she wanted to contribute more to help her people by sharing her story and spreading awareness.
Getting started, Sharifah didn’t have a role model; no one was speaking out about her people. She had no plan for what to do or how to do it; she just knew that she wanted to do it. Now, she is a role model for other people who want to speak out in their community just like she did. Sharifah has inspired many and continues to help educate those around her about the Rohingya people.
“We have to be the voice for each other by speaking up, being there for each other, and creating programs,” Sharifah said. As someone who got her education through refugee centers, Sharifah thinks FORA is extremely important. When she first visited FORA, she was overwhelmed. She saw all the love that the children got there, and it reminded her of how she didn’t receive the same love during her time in refugee centers. This is why she thinks it is important for places like FORA to exist. “The way FORA guides the children, it makes them feel welcomed, as if they are the children of the tutors,” Sharifah said. FORA welcomed Sharifah, gave her a sense of community and made her feel as though she was a part of them. She felt rejected and as if she did not belong in her own education, but FORA makes her feel as though she belongs. Whenever she may need help, she knows FORA is there for her.
Sharifah believes that FORA builds confidence, creates leaders, and builds a community. “We can talk about politics and issues in the countries, but if we don’t empower the communities and the children who are the future, we are just giving half of our services. You need respect and the feeling of belonging. FORA provides that. They bring the community together and help them to come forward,” Sharifah says.
This past August, Sharifah hosted an event for Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day in Houston, Texas. FORA and Michael were there for her as she planned this event. Even though she isn’t a refugee child or living in Chicago, she is still a part of the FORA community. Community empowerment is very important to Sharifah. This was the first event in Houston of its kind, and it was a large success. Politicians, Rohingyas, and community members attended. “Commemorating the remembrance day of genocide gives a message to the world that genocide is not acceptable,” Sharifah says. The world has no clue how long the Rohingya people have been suffering. It is necessary to have events like these in order to tell the world what is happening, and that is why more people like Sharifah are needed in our world.
Sharifah’s goal is to continue to be a role model to the younger generation and show that women can speak up. She started by wanting to bring her people’s voices to an international community, and she continues to spread awareness through speaking up, hosting events and much more. Recently she was featured in one of the largest newspapers in Texas, the Houston Chronicle.
Sharifah is a voice for Rohingya people all over. People all around the world now know about the Rohingya, and that is because of people like Sharifah. When Sharifah felt something needed to be done to help her people, she followed that feeling. She went door-to-door to talk to people about community and political issues, doing anything she could to spread her message. Sharifah says that she feels proud for not giving up. When asked what her goal was in going door-to-door to people in the community, Sharifah said, “to empower each other, to be there for each other, and to be the role model for other women.” Sharifah is that role model for numerous young women in her community, and she is part of a wave of female activists around the world who are fighting for what they believe in and inspiring communities.