“I Am Home” Highlights OIHS Immigrant Teens but Their Story is Universal: Education is to See Life Through New Eyes
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
I found a book treasure when I returned to the ACE office after a long business trip. It was given to the ACE team from two of the leaders* of Oakland International High School (OIHS) which hosts an ACE Learning Center. OIHS is dedicated to serving Oakland’s newcomer youth.
The book “I Am Home, Portraits of Immigrant Teenagers” is a collection of personal stories defining what is home by teens attending OIHS. Their memories are of what their former homes were like from refugee camps to villages to cities, and what home means to them now that they reside in the Bay Area. These students are learning how to live in a new country, along with a new language and culture. They experience the positive and negative as they look for safety, friendship, love and a way forward.
Safety and family are huge themes for these students.
“Oakland feels more like home to me than Afghanistan. It’s most important to me to feel safe. To me, this is home.”
Salahuddin Sarwari, age 17, Kabul, Afghanistan
“My home is here now with my family.”
David Angel Chavez, age 18, San Salvador, El Salvador
“Home is a place of enjoyment with your friends, a place where you can go out of your house at 6 a.m. and come back at 6 p.m. and be safe.”
Susana Tesfu, age 15, Adi Keyh, Eritrea
Merhawi Tesfu, age 19, Adi Keyh, Eritrea
So is moving forward.
“When I leave school, I want to have a good job and a big house so I can live my life however I want to.”
Sliem Fikadu, age 18, Keren, Eritrea
“I think of my future in nursing to help people who are sick. I want to have a house in Senegal and a house here.”
Oumou Thiane, age 17, Dakar, Senegal
“When I came here, my dad said to me: if you want to build yourself, you can build yourself; if you want to bring yourself down, you can bring yourself down.”
Nassar Korin, age 15, Ibb, Yemen
In reading these portraits I am reminded of a quote by John Dewey at the beginning of the book “Educated” by Tara Westover. I had to google Dewey and learned he was a mid-20th century education reformer and philosopher, and his idea of education as a continuing process is something to which these students might relate.
“I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.”
Their stories are about change, something we all experience, but these students’ change is continent-sized as they moved from one country or continent to the U.S. The portraits are full of describing the time spent studying, working and trying out new opportunities. Of missing parts of their family, parts of their culture. The sounds, smells, flowers, yards, pets, food, fresh air, hugs, fun time, cows, lost friends, living a different life style. Some want to return to their homelands. Some can’t.
But all are going to school. All are getting an education at OIHS. All are reconstructing their experiences of education in the classroom and in life.
OIHS is a key part of guiding these continuing reconstructions of experience. We at ACE are honored that we can help.
And in the end, Anna Akpawu, age 16 from Lomé, Togo, says it well:
“For me home is a happy family. Home is where there are people that care about you and where you are safe. Where people need you in their lives. It could be anywhere. Preferably with pizza.”
*Thank you Sailaja Suresh, Director, OIHS Learning Lab, and Carmelita Welsh Reyes, Co-Principal, OIHS, and all the OIHS students that signed their names and thanks in the book. Wow. What a treasure.
Purchase “I Am Home” on Amazon . All proceeds will go OIHS.