By Alissa Reinhard
This past March, Naomi Alyafei, Brandeis High School senior, was invited to participate as a student panelist at the 2017 Winter Governance and Legal Seminar hosted by the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) in Corpus Christi. Naomi was chosen as one of only four students selected to represent “Proud Products of Texas Public Schools.” Naomi’s story is, simply stated, incredible. For those familiar with her journey, it comes as no surprise that she was selected by the TASB.
Naomi was born in Somalia, but her family moved to Sanaa, Yemen when she was only three months old. This is where her story begins. Naomi lived in Yemen for almost 13 years.
“All my childhood memories were in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen,” said Naomi. “I cannot even begin to describe how our life was in Yemen before [the war.] Although it was hard for a family of only women, Sanaa was a peaceful and comforting place.”
However, when the civil war began, Naomi and her family were forced to leave their country. Yemen has since been devastated by the war, with more than 7,600 people killed and 42,000 injured since March 2015. The conflict has also triggered a humanitarian disaster, leaving 70 percent of the population in need of aid. Naomi and her family left Sanaa, traveling to Qatar, Dubai and finally, Indonesia.
“The United States was not in our plan when we left Yemen,” Naomi stated. “The plan was to go to Indonesia and then move to Australia by boat.”
However, the government of Indonesia does not accept refugees in their country so Naomi and her family’s case was forwarded to other resettlement countries. The choice where Naomi’s family would settle was in the hands of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They lived in Indonesia for three years until they were accepted into the United States.
“The process is so complicated and time consuming,” she described. “We went through many interviews and background checks before we were notified that the American government took our case. After that, there was another round of interviews and all kinds of checks. I still remember when I learned that the States accepted us; I was so happy and so terrified at the same time.
In fact, Naomi did not even know where she and her family were headed until the day before their flight.
“Coming to America was scary,” she described. “However, I was so glad because I knew that I would have opportunities that I could never dream to have in another country.”
Once Naomi arrived in San Antonio, she was enrolled in Brandeis High School, a place that quickly became her home away from home. For three years, she built close relationships with friends, classmates, teachers and administrators.
“Being in a big school like Brandeis was scary, especially in the beginning,” she described. “I lost my way from class to class and I missed the bus because I did not know where the bus loop was, but I would not trade it for anything else. Everyone there is a part of the big Bronco family.”
Naomi’s teachers, specifically her AP Physics teacher Mr. Wilson, helped shape who she is today. Naomi spoke about the impact Mr. Wilson had on her during her appearance at the TASB Winter Governance and Legal Seminar.
“[Mr. Wilson] challenged me and pushed me to reach my potential,” she described, echoing her statements from her speech. “I consider him my inspiration. He believed that I could do more and work harder. He taught us that grades are just a reflection and that knowledge is what carries us into the future to build a better world.”
Although there were many challenges to overcome, the biggest and most difficult for Naomi has been facing the stereotypes about refugees, especially Muslims, in the United States. During her speech, Naomi also described how she would like to change people’s perceptions of her and people like her.
“We are belittled and misjudged because we do not speak the language or because we look different,” she stated. “We are not less than the natives to this country in anyway. I struggled a lot with this my first year as a student, but with the help of my teachers and hard work, I proved many people work. I showed that I could do anything I want if I work hard for it.”
Now a Class of 2017 Brandeis High School graduate, Naomi will attend UTSA this coming fall where she will study to become a surgeon.
“I know that God has a plan for me, and I am satisfied,” she stated. “I am excited to start a new chapter in my life to reach my dreams. I had the idea of becoming a doctor since I was in elementary school, or even before that. I want to help when I see someone suffering. I detest the idea of standing there, unable to help. I hope that being a doctor is a way that I can give back to my community.”
Naomi’s journey to the United States was filled with many obstacles, uncertainty, and fear, but nothing has stopped her from pursuing her dreams. The support from her Brandeis family has served as a strong foundation that she is excited to build upon as a Roadrunner.
“My dream list goes on and on,” she said. “But if I had a chance to have one dream and make it real, it will be to make a better world. I believe I can do that by doing what I love and what I am good at. Medicine is a tool I want to use to make this world a safer place, a place where we can all live out our dreams.”