Leaving home to stay alive

15-year-old Nagham Nawaya grew up in Homs, Syria where she lived with her five siblings and has experienced more than the average Riverside student.

Conflict started to arise in Syria when citizens began to complain about unemployment, lack of political expression, and corruption under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies. In March of 2011, political demonstrations in Daraa (169.6 miles from homs, Syria) took a turn for the worse when the government started to use deadly force against civilians.

The Syrian rebels took up arms of their own, and the fighting escalated quickly. Soon the chaos attracted Islamic extremists, who also attacked Assad’s regime.

“I was only eight years old when the war started,” said Nawaya. She stopped attending school in the third grade when the facility became a shelter for families who were displaced by the war.

Before the war started, Homs was a non-violent city.

“[It was] so beautiful,” said Nawaya.

She knew things had changed forever when a routine trip to a neighborhood market became life-threatening.Nawaya had left to get groceries for the day and when she walked out of the store, she saw guns pointed in her direction.

“I remember everything.” Said Nawaya. “It was just me and my little sister and I held her in my hands,” said Nawaya. “ My sister was laughing and I was crying.”

After that, she stayed at home whenever possible.

“I was scared all the time to go get food or water,” said Nawaya.

Months later, Nawaya experienced getting shot at by the Syrian rebels.

“I was sitting on the balcony and bullet almost hit my head,” she said.

The Syrian Government sent Nawaya and her family to the US to seek political Asylum in 2016. Her family first moved from Homs to Jordan another Arab nation, where she continued her education up until the seventh grade. Nawaya then came to the US. Her family spent a week in Miami, Florida, then permanently relocated to Durham.

Nawaya was then placed in the eighth grade at Brogden Middle school. She quickly assimilated into American culture, but the transition wasn’t easy.

“When I came here I didn’t speak English,” she said. “Students would bully me at Brogden because I was Muslim.”

But things got better when she came to Riverside.

“Nagham is very attentive, on time and passionate about her education,” said Brian Strickland, Nawaya’s World history teacher. “School is extremely important to her.”

Strickland first learned about her journey in a writing assignment she completed in his world history class.

”She opened up pretty quickly about the things she has been through, and I asked her to write more” said Strickland. “It’s hard to believe. You see it on the news and hear about it a lot. I think about everything she has been through but yet school is the number one thing in her life.”

History is Nawaya”s favorite subject.

“[Strickland is] my favorite teacher” Said Nawaya. “I used to hate history in Syria and in Jordan. now I love history.”

Nawaya also discovered that she could sing and has joined Riversides’ chorus.

”I think she’s awesome,” said chorus teacher Jill Boliek. “She’s one of those students that makes me want to keep coming back every day.”

Although life in Syria during the war was very difficult, she’s thanks God that she’s here.

”Life is much better now,” said Nawaya. “I want people to know that If this didn’t happen I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

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