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Student Stories

A Story Of Success

Jyoti Kadel and her son Bhavesh moved to Chicago in January 2015. The family moved to various Nepali states before living in a refugee camp from 2012 to 2015. Life in the refugee camp was extremely challenging, because of the lack of essentials like accessible electricity, water, and sanitation. In 2012, the Kadel family applied with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, to be resettled in another country. In January 2015 the Kadel family finally arrived in Chicago, and since then have welcomed into the family another son. They considered themselves lucky to have been resettled in America since conditions here are better. This did not mean that they had an easy time settling here.

Jyoti expressed “every system was different... The paperwork especially was very difficult [to understand].” However, Jyoti worried most about her son's education. “It was really awkward,” said Bhavesh, “there were a lot of things I didn’t know, and I didn’t have any friends yet.” Bhavesh would go to his cousin for help with school, since she had already been living in the United States for a while, but he needed more support.

On Jyoti’s walks in her neighborhood, she noticed an education center that caught her attention. Inside, she could see students reading and receiving individualized educational support. “Every day I requested for Bhavesh to receive tutoring from FORA,” said Jyoti. “I was so happy when he was accepted. Before FORA, he wasn’t able to read well and had difficulty with pronunciation. But after two or three months, he improved greatly. Even his school teachers commented on his progress.” Jyoti expressed how her son is settling in much better due to FORA. “He is happier, and FORA is also able to teach him skills like politeness, respect for everyone, and how to interact with adults. My son has never missed one class, because he loves going to FORA.” 


“FORA helps in other ways too,” Jyoti continued.  From playing games with the staff , to throwing birthday parties for the students, to being introduced to new books. FORA is a community where Bhavesh feels happy, welcomed, and surrounded by friends — peers and staff alike. Kathleen O’Connor, FORA’s Director of education, would go to school meetings and speak with Bhavesh’s teachers, finding out what he needed to do to improve his grades, and guide Jyoti through the process of finding and applying for the best high school for Bhavesh. “It’s like a family,” explained Jyoti.


Speaking to Bhavesh, it is clear that with his hard work and resilience, he has a bright future ahead of him. He has a dream of someday becoming an engineer. “He's an extraordinary young man, and it's such a joy to know him,” says David McKenzie, FORA's Chief Administrative Officer and Bhavesh's tutor. “I think of us as friends, inasmuch as an old man and a teenager can be friends, but I do hope that over the next few years, as he becomes an adult, that we will remain friends.”

Story Of Resilience

“The first time I ever walked in I was like ‘Wow!’ We each have our own boxes and we can get help from all of the tutors, and my grades were, like, kind of bad but then they started to get better. I like FORA because it’s fun and we learn a lot of new things,” stated Nursafidah. “Well, Suwaiba is my favorite tutor because she’s fun and lets us do everything! “ “When we’re at FORA, we play games and read books together and do our homework, and I see my friends. On my first day at FORA I made a new friend and we were having fun and talking and we realized that many of the same things that had happened to me had also happened to her...we couldn’t believe it!”


“In Burma I only finished the seventh grade,” explains Nushafidah’s mother. “So the most important things we wished for were good educational opportunities for Nurshafidah and Hamza. We know the hardships that come from not having a good education.” As a Rohingya family in Burma, they have been historically denied rights that many in the US take for granted. Her family is determined that this generation will be the first in which they will not be denied a robust education. 

Nurshafidah’s father, who runs a small grocery store, found out about FORA from members of the community. “We knew that FORA had a good reputation in our community, and we knew they did good things to help both parents and kids,” Nurshafidah’s mother explains. “We have a Burmese store, and when people would come to our store, we heard from everyone who goes to FORA that they help the adults learn English and they do a good job of helping the kids [with reading and math].” 


“[Since starting at FORA,] we have seen an obvious improvement in grades…Nurshafidah went from B’s and C’s to now A’s and B’s,” says Nurshafidah’s mother. However, her daughter is not the only one who has made significant progress. Through attending FORA’s adult ESL classes, the mother has also made strides in her English literacy. “It makes a big difference for us to know our ABC’s,” she explains. “We had taken some fundamental English classes provided by the U.N., but it’s a completely different situation when you arrive here in the US and have to do everything in English. To run our store, we have to read so many letters, documents, and bills. We used to rely on our phones for translating, but now we don’t need to do that as much anymore.”


When asked about her aspirations for the future, Nursafidah said she hopes to become a teacher so that she can someday teach kids in the same way that she has been taught at FORA.

Story Of Hope

When Mahdi came to FORA, he was in fourth grade. He could not speak English well and avoided going to school — the language and communication barrier was so discouraging to him. However, after just a few months of being at FORA, Mahdi’s mom clearly noticed a large improvement; despite having been far behind his peers, Mahdi’s grades improved and he started to catch up to his grade level. Mahdi’s mother describes FORA as an organization that provides academic support to students who can’t get such help from their parents. 


Mahdi’s mom made her children’s education a priority because their family was denied a robust education prior to being resettled in the United States. Although the family is ethnically Afghani, they were born in Iran, where they were considered to be “illegal” and were denied basic rights. Meanwhile, they could not live in Afghanistan due to the war there. “Afghanistan was not a safe place to be, so we preferred to live illegally in Iran rather than go back and be killed in the war,” explains Mahdi’s older sister. “But in Iran, we weren’t even considered human. [As refugees] you can’t get access to education, you can’t do basic things like get a SIM card for your phone, you can’t get a normal job...when you are born as an Afghan in Iran, you are born as a refugee.”


In 2012 the family moved to Turkey, where their quality of life did improve slightly, but formal education still was not an option due to their status. They applied for resettlement with the United Nations and then waited for a decision to be made. “We waited for the phone call for four years… and then it came — we found out that we would be going to America. We were so excited! It was the best day of my life,” says Mahdi’s older sister. “And now, since arriving, these have been the best three years of my life… When we arrived in Chicago, I signed up for ELL courses at a local college, and I met many people in the same situation as me, as well as people who came to the United States as refugees and through their hard work are now so successful. And I realized that if they can do it, then so can I.”


Mahdi’s sister said, with no sense of exaggeration in her voice, “it has changed my life.” She concluded that what makes FORA special is that it not only provides academic support, but it also lifts its students up, encouraging them to set big goals for the future and helping them to achieve their dreams.

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