USM students are making their mark on their cities and towns. USM Connects recently spoke with two students about their community engagement. Here, Ekhlas Ahmed '15 discusses her work as an activist and how USM has prepared her to take it to new heights.
Ekhlas Ahmed ’15
I am a refugee and a civil rights activist from Darfur, Sudan. I fled with my family to Egypt and lived there for two years before being resettled in Portland in 2005. Since graduating from high school with honors, I earned a degree in Sociology at USM with hopes of helping resettle other refugees. I am the vice president and co-founder of Darfur Youth of Tomorrow, an organization raising awareness about the violence and needs in Darfur. I’m entering USM’s Extended Teacher Preparation program this fall.
Why is it important to give back?
When I came to Portland with my family at the end of 2005, many people stood by our side and assisted us in so many ways. Portland became our new home, and the people of Portland became family members, so I wanted to help make my new home better, and the people in the community feel connected.
I believe there are many reasons we should all be involved in our community. I am involved in so many efforts because I believe a community becomes your place in the world that allows you and your family members to have a sense of belonging. You have the opportunity to make great friends and shape the direction your community is headed.
Involvement does make a difference by strengthening the community. When a community is doing well as a whole, the community members are better off, too.
What is the greatest satisfaction in your community work?
It’s knowing how my work and my voice have affected so many people in such a positive way. Being involved feels good. The satisfaction and pride that come from helping others is a good reason to be involved. When I commit my time and effort to my community, I am helping to make it a better place for me and for my family.
In my AmeriCorps position as an English language learner educator I have learned that with a thirst for knowledge, energy spent on meaningful work and focused passion, you really can accomplish anything. This experience is launching me into a place of confidence, productivity, creativity and leadership that I never would have known I was capable of. I feel like I gained many years of experience in only a few months.
What do you hope to be doing in five years?
I see myself doing the same work that I do now, but on a larger scale. I want to finish graduate school, so I can provide more support to students, especially multicultural and multilingual students in the Portland Public School District. I want to travel into many different countries and spread the importance of education for women and girls.
I also hope I can find an organization to sponsor my idea of building a school in my home country of Sudan as this has been a dream of mine since I was really young. I want to provide a platform for many individuals to have access to the gift of education.
How has USM helped you prepare for the future?
The school has provided me with so much support and guidance that has prepared me for a bright future. Through my time at USM, I have been involved in so many different activities that helped me learn about and connect with my classmates who came from all over the globe. My professors expected me to succeed, and they also pushed me to succeed. They taught me and also gave me the space to learn.
What is the one thing you would like people to know about USM?
That there is always someone to support, encourage and motivate you as a student and as an individual to accomplish whatever you have aspired to be.
This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2017 edition of USM Connects.