The Female Refugee Experience in Central Ohio


Education has a significant impact on the quality of life for women. 

In many parts of the world, girls do not get an education because boys are prioritized. When resources are scarce, they go to the boys. In addition, some places take collective action to keep girls out of school. In these areas, there are people who push against the norm and uplift their daughters. In How Dare the Sun Rise, Uwiringiyimana writes with pride about her Congolese dad and the values he upheld. 
It was important to my dad that both the girls and boys get a good education, which was very forward thinking of him in a community where the traditional role for girls was to marry and produce children. Most families spent all their time and money on the boys. But not my dad. If anything, he stressed the girls’ education more. Maybe because he was married to my mom, who was so smart and strong. He really admired her. My parents refused to conform to a lot of things. 
Uwiringiyimana, page 38
Even if there is not direct action taken to prevent girls from going to school, hurdles still appear. Safety is one of the major hurdles. Girls are easy targets, and when conflict occurs, they often cannot afford the risk of being in public. This is especially true when authorities or those who hold power are known to abuse girls. Musalo gives an example of this in her article, “El Salvador--A Peace Worse Than War: Violence, Gender and a Failed Legal Response”.
Surveys have also revealed high levels of sexual harassment in schools, which adversely impacts girls’ access to education. In-country sources recounted numerous occasions in which teachers and school administrators had engaged in sexual harassment of their students but had either failed to suffer the consequences or had been supported by their colleagues, while their young accusers were blamed.
Nazario, pages 272-273
Another hurdle is finances. Many girls do not attend school so that they can support their families. The Eritrean woman I interviewed experienced this. She was a teenager when she came to the US, and when it was time to apply for college, she opted to work to send money to family back in Eritrea. Later on, she was a single mom, and it was again not feasible for her to attend college. 

Additionally, cultural traditions and values can stop a girl from going to school. Where it is traditional to marry and start a family young, girls follow this path instead of education. Uwiringiyimana's mother does this in How Dare the Sun Rise
At the time, my mom was just fourteen years old. She had completed five years of school, which was considered a lot of education for a girl in those days. Typically, after five or six years of school, girls simply dropped out, because there seemed to be no point in continuing their education: Their fate was to marry young and produce children. My dad was eighteen years old, just finishing high school. Schools were sparse in the mountains, and he walked for miles each day to get that education.
Uwiringiyimana, page 13
This also occurs to Ali's classmates in Infidel. 

Now I saw that Latifa, one of the Arab girls from the coast, had suddenly disappeared from our classroom. According to Halwa, one Saturday afternoon Latifa’s father told her that she was never going back to school; the time had come for her to prepare for her to become a woman. A classmate had been invited to Latifa’s wedding, and she talked about it. The groom was older, from Mombasa; there had been lots of presents. Latifa had looked frightened; she had cried, and her tears stained the dress she wore, which had been stiff and white.”
Ali, page 77

A family that values their daughter's education is more likely to provide a life with greater stability and opportunity. It particularly helps refugee women when they need to access work in unfamiliar circumstances. This is true for one Somali woman who is featured in Chamber's Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations

Suuban (pseudonym) from Columbus:

When she arrived, she spoke no English, but she had a tenth-grade education. This was in large part thanks to her mother, who—deeply concerned about Suuban’s education—had sent her to school in the refugee camp when other families saw no need to educate their daughters. Suuban embraced education and treasure the few books she owned. She explained:

"I fell in love with reading. For a kid not brought up with libraries, books or newspapers, a book was the best thing. Reading helped me understand how life was outside [of the camp and Somalia].” 

When she first arrived in Columbus, Suuban watched people’s children while she pursued her education. She held a variety of low-paying warehouse jobs in warehouses. While holding several jobs and working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, she managed to get a high school diploma and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University. She still works many hours a day, but she is now proficient in English and works at a translation agency. 

She has been responsible for her own living expenses as well as the education and living expenses of family back in Somalia. For her, supporting her mother, who remains in Somalia, is a top priority. 
Chamber, page 33

Education was described as an escape in many of the books I read. Either as a direct tool than can help you change your situation or as a story to distract you. It was used as a tool in Binebine's Welcome to Paradise.

I had realized quite early on that school was the only way to get myself away from the village, from laboring in other people’s fields, tending the sheep in the blazing heat, my father’s fits of violence, the endless boredom every day, the tiny room where we all slept on top of each other.
Binebine, page 114

It was used as a distraction during the long journey in the cramp train cars in Repetys's Between Shades of Gray

Mrs. Rimas organized the children and began to tell stories. The young kids scrambled toward the librarian. Even the two daughters left their grouchy mother and sat mesmerized by the fantastic tales. The girl with her dolly leaned against Mrs. Rimas and sucked her thumb.
Repetys, page 83

Good education is a strong pull factor for immigrants and refugees when considering where to resettle. When children—especially girls—lack access to education, parents see their children's bleak futures and work to change it. I spoke with a woman from Algeria whose main reason for coming to the US was to get her daughters a better education. She was willing to sacrifice her job, friends, home, and more, just so that her daughters could receive the education they deserved. 

It is hard to raise your children in a new country. It is even harder when you do not know the language, have experience in the education system, or understand the culture. The Eritrean woman I interviewed explained the difficulties she encountered when educating her son in Central Ohio. The teaching style was the opposite of what she experienced when she went to school in Eritrea. In Eritrea, teachers were seen as parental figures who could step in to address whatever problems kids were having. In Central Ohio, the teacher's job was to teach and relay the issues to parents so they can address their child's problem.This is where the main issue—communication—comes in. Teachers and parents struggle to understand each other through the language and cultural barriers. 

The Eritrean woman I spoke to navigated the barriers and complexities when her son began having problems in elementary school. Her son was having trouble paying attention in the classroom. He was a kid who always wanted to play. Whenever there was a disturbance in the classroom, her son was blamed and she was contacted. This bothered her; it seemed like he was being targeted since they were refugees with a thick accent. When the issue continued, the school recommended she put her son on medication for ADHD. However, a visit to the doctor indicated otherwise; he did not need medication, he just needed some extra attention at school.  

For young adults, navigating the higher education system without the guidance of a parent is challenging. Organizations and programs are a big help in this area, but they are not always easily accessible. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar experienced this as a teenager and was taken advantage of. 

As a refugee with a single parent, I didn’t have the traditional family who read college guides, toured campuses, helped with applications, and finally reviewed financial aid and loan applications. I was on my own like the other immigrants, veterans, and first people in their family to attend college—all of whom made up the bulk of students at my school. Overwhelmed by where to start in getting an affordable degree, we were happy to take any help offered to us. Unfortunately, at the same time that the school urged me to take out loans to pay for its fees, it didn’t make sufficiently clear that, as I later discovered, many of its classes were unaccredited and could not be transferred to other schools. In retrospect, it feels very exploitative. My fellow students and I paid dearly for a school that filled out all the forms for us. Omar, page 111

One of the more painful experiences regarding education is when the country you resettle in does not acknowledge your college degree. This is a common issue that many refugees face. In their home countries, they have access to good jobs with high salaries because of their credentials. Here, those credentials are meaningless, and people must start over by working low wage, manual labor jobs. In How Dare the Sun Rise, Sandra Uwiringiyimana saw her parents and sister go through this painful experience. 

The factory hours were long and tiring, and the work was tedious. It was painful to see my parents come home looking so worn out. But they never complained. They did what they had to do. 

I hated seeing them that way. I thought about how Mom had run her own business in Congo, how Dad had always held good jobs. It was a wake-up call for all of us: As refugees in America, we were at the bottom of the heap. Your credentials from your home country don’t matter. You could come here with a college education, like Princesse did, and it wouldn’t mean anything. She had studied international relations in college in Rwanda. She has held a job in the government. But it didn’t count in America. She would have to go to college again. People in America don’t care about college degrees or careers from Africa. Princesse had worked so hard to get that education. We had been through so much to get our golden ticket to America. But we were invisible. 
Uwiringiyimana, Page 145

The Algerian woman I interviewed also worked a job she was overqualified for when she resettled in the US. In Algeria, she was a history and geography high school teacher with a 5 year degree. In Central Ohio, she cleans. 

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