Refugee Center Student of the Year

Siti Khadijah Binti Abdul Salam came to the United States as a refugee from Malaysia in November of 2015. Her parents were originally from Myan Mar (formerly Burma) and their families fled to Malaysia when they were children. Khadijah arrived in Utica with her parents, 2 younger sisters and 2 younger brothers. As many other refugee families, they joined an aunt in Utica, but left 2 older daughters in Malaysia.

Education is very important to Khadijah and her family. In Malaysia the younger children were unable to attend ‘regular’ school - they were forced to attend “Refugee” schools. These provided an inferior education and bullying and gang activity were rampant. Khadijah attended a regular high school, but the education that refugees received was not equal to that of native Malaysian students. Three months before graduation, Khadijah was told that she could not continue in her program but would have to re-register as a refugee. She did re-register, but the stress and uncertainty caused her friends to desert her and her grades suffered.

This educational discrimination prompted Khadijah’s parents to apply to the UN for resettlement to the United States. The resettlement process is long and arduous for refugees. While waiting for the resettlement process to conclude, Khadijah enrolled in a UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) program where she studied English and completed a Culinary Arts program. She then enrolled in a secretarial course where she received certificates in typing and office studies. She used her studies to work as a cashier, a waitress in a bakery and a bookkeeper in an office. When after more than 3 years, Khadijah’s family was notified they were going to Utica, they had 2 weeks to dispose of all of their belongings in Malaysia and say goodbye to the daughters who were staying.

In Utica, Khadijah enrolled in ESL classes at the Refugee Center. She worked hard, and in January 2017 she enrolled in the advanced ESL program at Mohawk Valley Community College. After her first semester she had a 3.25 GPA. Khadijah is active in the International Club at MVCC. Her goal is to complete the advanced ESL program this fall and enter the Political Science major in January 2018. She has her eye on Cornell University to complete her Bachelors degree. Ultimately, Khadijah would like to be an ambassador for Refugees in Myan Mar.

While attending college full time, Khadijah also works part time as a medical and school interpreter for the Refugee Center. She juggles all of this while also interpreting for her parents and siblings.

Siti Khadijah Binti Abdul Salam is bundle of energy. She is always moving, studying, smiling and laughing. She makes friends easily. While attending college full time and working part time, Khadijah continues to visit her teachers and friends at the Refugee Center. She misses her home, family and friends in Malaysia, but optimistically looks to the future. She would ultimately like to help the refugees of Myan Mar make their lives better. In the meantime, she brings smiles to everyone she meets.