Berry senior Fakhria Hussain’s story begins in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she was born and lived until she was eight years old, when her family was forced to flee the country after her father was killed by the Taliban. She also lost her uncle, cousin, and several friends and neighbors in the war. Fakhria’s family received help from an organization called the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which exists to respond to the world’s worst humanitarian crises by helping refugees survive and rebuild their lives.
The IRC operates in over 40 countries and in 22 cities in the United States, and Fakhria credits them with enabling her to focus on her education and career path. “Without its help,” she says, “I might not have been able to come to Berry College.”
In order to help other families who are experiencing the stress and hardship of being refugees, Fakhria spent this past summer interning at the IRC branch in Atlanta, which is the largest refugee resettlement agency in Georgia. The Atlanta IRC branch resettles about 800 refugees into Georgia every year, and provides additional services and assistance to another 1,500 refugees.
Fakhria spent her summer interning with the IRC’s Youth Futures program. This after-school program focuses on academics, helping refugee youth with homework and school projects and also introducing them to the American workplace. The idea, says Fakhria, is to “help them discover more about their own goals.” The IRC also offers a summer camp to “provide cultural, learning, social, and specific skill-building opportunities.”
Being an intern at IRC was a very different experience than being a client. “I now had the opportunity to put into practice the knowledge, theories, work ethics, skills, and experiences learned in my Family Studies and other social science classes at Berry, as well as in a previous internship at the Rome Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth,” Fakhria shares. “I worked with 100 refugee youths from all over the world, familiarizing them with American culture. Because of my first-hand experience as a refugee youth with the IRC Summer Youth Program, I could empathize with the situation and feelings of the youth I worked with and could more easily relate to their individual situations. I believe I helped them by building trust, mentoring, and setting an example of how to successfully adapt to American life. I talked to the whole group, as well as to some individuals, and explained that going to college may seem very difficult, but it is not impossible. I told them they should not be shy about asking questions and getting help. A bright future is waiting for them.”
Fakhria was just as inspired by working with the diverse group of young refugees as they were by her. “They came together for common purposes,” she explains. “Finding themselves, making friends, and learning to adapt to their new environment. Not all of them had a real home before resettling here – some of them were born in refugee camps. I had previous experience working with a refugee family from Burma. Three of the children were born in a Thai refugee camp. All seven of the family members had to share a tent as their home while experiencing violence, abuse, and neglect. One of the children was born with a birth defect and another died due to the harsh conditions of the camp. The rest of the family now suffers post-traumatic stress disorder. It is difficult to imagine living in those conditions, and it’s even more difficult for them to make the transition from that life to life in America. That’s why they need IRC and mentors like myself.”
Fakhria’s Interdisciplinary Studies major (which combines Child & Family Studies with Psychology) helped her to understand how to meet the needs of refugee youth from very different ethnic and national backgrounds. “I sincerely appreciate my Berry family for helping me discover my future options,” she says. “This summer, I realized how much I learned from my academic advisors, Dr. Jory and Dr. Hickman, and from Dean McDowell for guiding me into a career field that I am so passionate about.”
Fakhria found a mentor and role model of her own in IRC case manager Chris Morris, who coordinate d the IRC Youth Program. “I remember so many encouraging words from her that kept me motivated in school,” she says. “The last time I saw her she told me, ‘Fakhria, you are doing amazing in school… I know you can make it to college – keep your goals high!’ Those words made me even more determined about going to college. With hard work, motivation, and the help of the IRC Youth Program, friends, and teachers, I was able to get admitted to Berry. When I started my first year at Berry, I had to ignore the fact that I had been in school for only six years in my whole life, which was half the amount of my classmates.”
As for the future, Fakhria says, “I am still afraid to go back to Afghanistan to visit, but I would love to go help people someday – especially the single mothers who lost their husbands, and the children who lost their parents during the war. After graduating from Berry, my plan is to work part-time in Atlanta with one of the awesome refugee resettlement agencies, like IRC, while I finish my master degree to be a Child Family Specialist or a Family Counselor. In 10 or 20 years, I see myself as an advocate for refugee families and any human beings who are victims of violence, abuse, and human trafficking.”
Fakhria thinks all Berry students should consider interning at IRC. “Berry community members are motivated and have a strong desire to help others,” she says. “If you are looking for an internship or volunteering opportunity, then please get involved with IRC in Atlanta. They would love to have college students who are enthusiastic to work in a multicultural setting and be advocates and mentors to refugee youth and families. I guarantee that spending a day or more with these inspiring young refugees will be a life-changing experience and well worth your time.”