October 6, 2017

Yassmina’s Story: My Road from Tangier

“I was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1998 in the northern tip of Africa across of Spain. I have unfailingly always wanted to learn and have the privilege to go to school. This singular desire came with much adversity; I left my family at age 12, traveled over 5,000 miles to an unknown land, experienced abuse and trauma, placed in foster care and did not speak the first year after arriving in America. Life was challenging for me without a way to communicate, but I knew I would learn. I was afraid but I was also resilient, capable and determined.

My biggest fear was that I would been seen as unintelligent – after all, I never attended school before arriving in America. Each morning when I would wake up my sister insisted I learn the new words; how to spell them, how to pronounce them. I would take a picture in my mind of how the word looked to me. Sad was brown and I knew sadness quite well now – it was the color of my tired eyes and kinky hair. My heart ached for my mother, father and my other siblings. Other kids at my middle school thought I couldn’t speak, but there were no ESL classes for kids that speak Arabic so I just waited until I was sure I could use my new words. After a year, I started to learn how to learn for the first time and I visualized the word happiness. Yellow like the sun resting on the water at my childhood Essaouria Beach at sunset.

You may wonder what I did with my time in Morocco growing up – well, life is very different there. Our culture is one of peace, family and happiness. We are mindful of one another and of ourselves; we fit together in community and share happiness without worrying that we need school, corporate jobs or more money to be happy. I spent the day doing household chores, then rode horseback to the beach. It was a beautiful life. Though for me, there was always something missing – I knew I wanted more. It can be very difficult to go to school in Morocco because teachers don’t care weather you show up to school or not. Students are not allowed to enter school without knowing their multiplication tables and how to read. Many students in Morocco try hard to learn and they’re very dedicated in learning. I went to school once for a week when I was 7, but after being beaten for not understanding, my parents had me stay home with the many other students unable to navigate the challenging educational system. It was not a possibility to attend school without a beating and dismissal and so it was clear I would not be able to go to school in Tangier. When I stopped going to school my father taught me how to read and write a little in Arabic. He was a busy man, but tried to take the time to teach me for an hour or so every week. There was no time for math lessons.

My mother did whatever she could to make sure my sister and I got the education we needed. I’m very thankful to have my mother in my life; she is a powerful woman and will be forevermore be my biggest role model. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be sent to learn in America. My mother did everything she could to send me and my sister Oumaima to live in the United States with my oldest sister.

Badia brought me and my sister Oumaima to the United States to live with she and her husband. My oldest sister helped us to get into school but that was the end to her charity. Badia became very abusive to us – we ended up going to school without food, she beat us until we bled, we were covered with black and blue bruises. I had no idea my dream was going to end up like this. I felt like I moved from a bad situation to a much worse black hole. My day would start out at 5:00 am to learn twenty words in English everyday, by Friday night I better know all those 20 words and know what they mean or I would end up sleeping outside in the backyard without food or water. I have been starved many times. One time I went 4 days with no food. I seemed to have trouble dying. I wondered why should I have lived this long – there must be a reason. I was underweight and much of my hair had fallen out as pulling my hair became Badia’s daily preference. This abuse did not end until a year later, when we were removed from her home and placed in foster care. The group home was both sad and scary, but I was finally able to eat, sleep and focus on my education.

I can’t let the past stop me from the future because I believe in myself and I will always be a confident person. I am resilient. I have achieved many things by working hard and being myself. I will always keep my head up and smile big because life is short and I want to enjoy every moment of it. Without struggle, there can be no learning. My experiences have made me stronger as a woman and I will always stand up for what I believe to be right. Even though it took me a year to learn English, in one short year I was able to communicate with people around me. My name was such a beautiful mystery in English; I wrote it over and over for two weeks even after I had it memorized – the writing was like poetry. Words have power and someday I will be able to write my full story so other people might know to never give up.

I started my first couple years in America with little English, living in darkness and uncertainty. I opened my mind and my heart and found I could understand and communicate for the first time. I was euphoric. Even though the road has been challenging, I didn’t let it bother me because I am the girl who’s always smiling no matter what. I have learned many things throughout my life; I believe education is important and everyone deserves to have the education they want, deserves the love and security of family and a support system that inspires reaching for your dreams. I found a home in The Colorado Teen Project. They matched me with an amazing mentor who I see every week and helped with so many resources, especially covering my tuition and the many volunteers who helped prepare me for college. I wouldn’t have known how to apply for college, financial assistance or do all the things I needed to do to attend The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs in the fall without their guidance and direction. I plan to study Women’s Studies, Sociology and Arabic Studies to help empower other people in my situation to have faith in themselves and be able to see a bright future.”