Student Highlight: Mariem Abdullatif

mariam-play-now“Iraqi woman and war refugee graduates high school through Denver Online”
9 News: Sarah Anderson & Tom Cole
Published: May 27th, 2017
Find link to actual news story here.

DENVER, COLO. – She’s gotten her education, and she hasn’t forgotten where she came from.

Her name is Mariem Abdullatif. And she had quite the journey to getting her high school diploma. Abdullatif woke up to bombs in Iraq and Syria as a child. Her father was kidnapped and beaten.

She left her country behind and moved to America because her education was so important to her.
Coming to America was “the best day for me,” Abdullatif wrote in a personal narrative essay.

But her dreams of education and graduating high school were quickly shattered.

As she recounts in her essay, at her original high school she was called to see her counselor and told that she didn’t have enough credits to graduate. Abdullatif tried to work with the school, told them that “I will do my best to finish all these classes,” as she wrote. But ultimately, to no avail.

She was told by a friend, later her husband, to do her best for the time being and start at an online high school the next school year.

So she started Denver Online High School in 2016, and she graduated Thursday.

“It was just clear that she had an important perspective to share,” her English teacher, Jessica Glynn, said. Glynn called her story amazing after reading the personal narrative, which was written for the English class.

“She was able to bring me into her as a six-year-old girl waking up to her father shielding her from bombs going off,” she said.

You too can read Mariem Abdullatif’s story in her own words below, in her essay that was provided to Next courtesy of Denver Online High School.

It’s still rough, and she will be working with her English teacher to edit it for smoother grammar, Denver Online spokeswoman Kaci Sintek said in an email to Next.

Abdullatif wants to continue writing her story and maybe even publish it someday, Sintek said. We’ll be waiting for it to hit bookshelves.

In the meantime, she’ll be further studying to try and become a lawyer.


Read her personal narrative below:

Between Today and Yesterday
By Mariem Abdullatif

To begin, my name is Mariem. I am from Iraq, and I am 21 years old. I have one brother who is 11 years old, and one sister who is 18. I will not sayabout me from the beginning because I think there are a lot of interesting things about me you will discover.

As a child, I would hear people say to my mom, “Your daughter’s smart.” When I was 5 years old, I knew the English letters, Arabic letters, and French letters. I would save all the songs that I heard in my mind.

When I turned 6 years old, I went to school. The school was the best thing for me. I loved school very much, but the year was and in this year the war started in Iraq.

I don’t remember a lot of things about this year – except some days. These days are like a movie inside my mind. When I remember, it’s like watching a recording, and I realize that, really, all my life was like a movie.

I remember before the war my mom and my dad bought a lot of food and water. I asked why. “What’s going to happen?” They told me nothing is going to happen, but then one day before the war, my mom did tell me that we would hear bombs and that we should be strong and always be together.

On the night the war began, we were all in my grandfather’s house with my cousins. We were very happy. We ate dinner and after that everyone went to sleep. At midnight, I felt someone holding me. I opened my eyes, and I saw my dad holding me, and my mom holding my sister. There were voices. My parents took us to a room and put sound prevention headphones in our ears. Everybody was crying. We were very scared.

It was the most difficult time for us. I remember the day when I was sleeping, and I heard my grandmother scream because my uncle went outside and she heard bombs. Everyday we woke up to the sounds of bombs. After a few days, my family decided to leave Bagdad and go to another city because Bagdad had become very dangerous for us. We went to Baqubah in the northwest of Bagdad. This city was calmer, and everything was good for the first few days until we had to rent a home without any safety, without windows or doors. The first day there was like a horror film. My family decided to go back to Bagdad because we didn’t have money to pay the rent.

On the way back, there were scorched cars. The streets were sad. What happened after that, I don’t remember! But I do remember when we were back to our house, in the night, the bell rang. Our neighbor told my dad that militia asked for my father. The neighbor told my father, “You should leave this area because if they know you are here, they will kill you.”

My parents were very scared. When I was child, I didn’t know what militia did to people. After a few days, my father disappeared, and my mom was all the time praying and weeping. She never ate with us. My sister and I asked her about my dad, and she said he went to another city and he would come home soon. I waited for my dad everyday in the door, but he did not come.

After one month, I was in the garden with my sister and the door opened. My father opened the door, but he was not okay. His eyes were black, his face was red, and his clothes were bloody. My sister and I screamed at the same time. We asked him what happened. He couldn’t answer. My mom came very fast and hugged him. After that, I realized that my father had been kidnapped. My father told us that we should leave. Iraq is not safe because we are “Suna,” and Iraq is just for the “Shia.”

My parents decided to go to Syria. The only problem was that we didn’t have enough money to go because the militia took all that we had. My mom’s brother gave my mom some money. We left everything, and we went to an unknown fate. I was a child, but not like any child in this world. I have lived a lot of pains in this time. What is my sin to live this torment?

On the way to Syria, the streets were terrifying and my father was suffering because of the wounds on his body. I was crying and telling him to be patient. It is hard to see the strongest person in your eyes suffering and you can’t do anything. The way was very long. After two days, we arrived in Syria. We were scared because it is a new country. My father had a friend there who helped us a lot and found us an apartment. We become happy in this country. We went to school and it became our second home. In 2006, my brother was born; he was so cute. Now we were two girls and one boy. We spent seven years in Syria. The life was hard, but at the same time was nice. I missed Iraq a lot. I missed my grandmother, my school, and everything, but I didn’t want to go back to Iraq.

It is hard to say, “I don’t want to go to Iraq,” but if your home is not safe for you, you will decide to love this home from afar.

Then my second home, Syria, started to break. It was unsafe there for Iraqi people because we were targeted. My father started thinking about another place with more safety. We went to Turkey by bus. The way was very dangerous because it crossed Aleppo. On the way, we heard shooting all the time. At the Turkish border, the people inside were looking with hatred toward us. Their look was like they wanted us to tell them why we were in their country. I wished I could answer them, but I was scared. Inside myself, I told them, “I have a home too. My home is beautiful, but it is not safe for me. That is why I came to your home, to find safety for me and my family.”

My question was always why. Why did this happen to us, why can’t we be in our country?

We finished stamping the passports. We entered Turkey, where we didn’t know anyone, but there were some people waiting. They asked us, “Are you refugees?” They took us and helped us find a house. They were good people. The house had no carpet, and no heater. We stayed in one room, and we wore a lot of clothes. Some of the clothes we put on the ground, to sleep on. My father looked to us, and he said, “I am sorry.” We all started to cry. When I remember these times, my heart hurts me.

We stayed in Turkey 6 months. There were no jobs there for people who could not speak Turkish, and my dad didn’t know Turkish. My sister and I would go to the neighbors and learn some words and then teach my dad these words, but this don’t work. We decide to return to Iraq.

When we arrived, I felt like I had been looking for something and had found it – Bagdad, the most beautiful city in the world. We lived in my grandmother’s house a few days. After that we went to Irbil; we lived in this city for 3 years and my dad found a job. Everything was good until “ISIS” came to Iraq, and broke everything. The Kurdish people hated us because they thought we were like ISIS. We are not from ISIS; we are Arabic Muslims people. This does not means we are from ISIS.

We interviewed to come to America and after six months were accepted. We sold everything to get ready to travel. In January 2015, we arrived in America. It was the best day for me. I was very happy to build my future here, but the good things did not continue. Always there is something that hurts everything.

I went to the school the first week, and I was very happy to learn and work hard. One day – I always remember this day, the day that changed me from a successful person to a helpless person – my counselor told me because I was 18 and needed 4 years to graduate that I did not have time. “This means you will not graduate.” He looked to me without any mercy.

As I left his office, I felt like all the doors closed for me. I loved my school. I wanted to build my future from my studying so I could help my family and make their life better, but everything was closing for me before my eyes. I become depressed. I was crying all the time, not eating or drink anything, not going to school, and sometimes I felt that I wanted to end my life. My parents tried to help me, but it didn’t work. I always thought if I can be successful in school, I can change my parents’ lives. I can change everything sad we saw before. My dad couldn’t work because he had pain in his neck. I thought I could help him by having a good job after I finished high school.

At the beginning of the next year, I met Hussein, another student from Iraq, who is now my husband. I explained to him everything that had happened. We went together to the counselor more than once, but it was same thing. After that, he told me, “Do your best this year, and next year I will take you to online high school.” I finished the year with good grades, not perfect, and after that I went to Denver Online High School in 2016. I met at this school the best teachers I have ever had, and I graduated in 2017. I want to be a lawyer. I know it will be hard, but I think if I find good scholarships, it will be easy for me to be a lawyer.

To conclude, I want to say thanks to my Denver Online counselor Casey Burton, my English teacher Jessica Glynn, and my biology teacher Erica Macintosh. They helped me a lot to improve myself and trust myself. And my biggest thanks is for Hussein, my husband. He is my support.