Back to School
Refugee Student Wins College Scholarship
Pabitra Basnet looks like many of the other students milling around at the end of the day at West Aurora High School. She runs cross country, wants to play soccer in the spring or maybe join the dance club. Her speech is peppered liberally with “like” and “stuff.” She is kind, poised and flawlessly polite. But Pabitra, who goes by Pabi, recently received a full college scholarship through philanthropist Bob Carr’s Give Something Back Foundation (GSBF). Pabi stood out among 40 applicants and 20 finalists at Aurora West to be one of seven scholarship winners.
Pabi will be the first in her family to be able to go to college in the US because she, along with her parents Bal Bahadur and Hari Maya Basnet, two sisters and one brother, came to the this country as refugees. The family were forced to flee Bhutan for Nepal when the conditions in Bhutan became too dangerous. Pabi did have the opportunity for some education, but school in Nepal was very different. “We had to wear a uniform and then we used to have school on Saturday and we had to braid our hair every day,” Pabi explains. “If we didn’t do our homework or that kind of stuff, we would get beat by our teacher.”
Pabi was just in 5th grade in 2010 when her family came to live in Aurora. When she entered school that year she spoke no English and remembers having a lot of fears. “It was really scary, and I was worried every day,” Pabi recalls. “For, I don’t know, a month I cried every night because students were not nice. I used to cry under the blanket so my parents couldn’t find out that I was crying.”
Nepali friends in higher level classes at school helped Pabi with her English, and she participated in WRDA’s after school programs. Then in middle school she continued to make great strides with help of her teacher.
Last year, Pabi’s freshman year at Aurora West, students were encouraged to apply for the GSBF scholarships. Pabi talked it over with a couple friends but didn’t think she would apply. “They were, like, ‘We should try it,’ and I was like, ‘You guys should do it but I know I won’t get it.’ They went to the meeting and I was like, ‘If they can apply for a scholarship, why can’t I?’ So I asked my friends for the information and I applied.”
The Give Something Back Foundation was founded by Robert Carr, chairman and chief executive of Heartland Payment Systems, a large processor of credit and debit card transactions. To be eligible for a GSBF scholarship students must carry a 3.0 grade point average, have good character and be eligible for federal Pell grants. “GSBF funds the balance of the student bill after all state, federal and institutional aid is applied,” according to Steve Cardamone, GSBF executive director. Scholarship recipients choose one of the colleges with which the foundation partners.
Any student that applies for a scholarship must submit an essay and letters of recommendation. Finalists are interviewed by the foundation. The GSBF also pairs each scholar with a mentor who guides the student through both high school and college. “Mentors are another set of eyes to make sure the students are doing well, not just academically, but as people,” Cardamore says. “We optimally look for students that show the ability to overcome. Are there stories that demonstrate perseverance?”
“All the students selected had a dream and a desire to go to college and make a difference,” said Deb Quinn, director of school counselors at West Aurora who worked with all the students who applied for the GSBF scholarships. “Our World Relief students are very special to us in District 129. Their stories of struggle and overcoming obstacles in order to get to the United States are inspiring.”
Pabi has selected to attend Norther Illinois University when she finished high school in 3 years. “I want to be a businesswoman,” she says with pride. “I’m kind of scared to talk in front of people. It’s scary but it’s kind of fun doing it. I have a business class now. I was really scared, but now it’s good.”
Why has Pabi done so well in school? “I think it’s because I don’t want to be like my mom; not in a bad way but, like, uneducated,” Pabi explains. “She wanted to go [to school] but her parents didn’t let her.”
“They asked me, what I would do if I became a businesswoman,” Pabi says. “I think, first, I would buy a big house, for my family. And then, after that, I think I would open one big store where my dad and my family can work. After that, I would go to Nepal and help those kids like me.”
Thinking ahead, Pabi imagines college will be very scary as well. She still has never been to Northern Illinois University, and it is another unknown to face. Perhaps it is all of this talk about scary stuff; past, present and future that makes her stop and change the conversation.
“Before I applied for the scholarship, I told many people, like my cousins and then other people. They didn’t take me seriously. They were like, ‘You’re not going to get it,’ ‘There are lots of people who are better than you so you won’t get it.’ And then at night I just thought that I want to show them. I want to show them wrong.”
One of Pabi’s friends called her a “warrior”, and it is just that attitude that is leading this young woman to overcome and see a future for herself. “I think that is why I worked a little bit harder on my essay and then the interview; because of them. I was proud that I proved them wrong.”
Learning through Serving
Students Prepare for International Internship
Serving newly arriving refugees helps to train future leaders and WRDA is passionate about building opportunities for college students. Each year we welcome interns from local area colleges into a variety of areas of service. One particular group of students serve as English tutors as a required part of their school curriculum. These students are from Wheaton College’s Human Needs and Global Resources program. For years WRDA has been a part of preparing these students for 6 months of service in a developing country. During their service they will work alongside partner organizations that are addressing issues such as poverty, injustice, church development and conflict resolution.
During the year before they leave the US, these students become English tutors for newly arriving refugees. This year some 30 students are giving at least 2 hours each week to tutor an individual or family, but the learning is a two-way street. The refugees served are helped to improve their English skills and build opportunities in America. And for the HNGR students, they are learning about hospitality and gaining practical experiences that foreshadow the experiences they will have serving overseas, like learning to communicate across differences in language, culture and background. The students regularly meet together to discuss their experiences and what they are learning through serving.
Here and There
Education in Emergencies in South Sudan
Education for children is a causality of war. With over 2 million people displaced because of the on-going civil war in South Sudan, a generation of children are missing the opportunity at an education. In the camps for the Internally Displace Persons (IDP) in this young, war-torn nation, World Relief is working to provide Emergency Education for children ages 3-12.
This year at the Leich Primary School in the Unity State of South Sudan, World Relief has helped to create 31 temporary learning spaces that have served 3,235 students. The children served include those in the Early Childhood Development (ECD) program as well as primary school. Not only is education provided for the children, but active work among the parents teaches about the importance of schooling and encourages active engagement of parents with their children’s education.
To find out more about the Education in Emergencies program and other ways World Relief is addressing the needs of South Sudan, visit http://www.worldrelief.org/south-sudan.