NASHVILLE (TSU News Service) – Ghariba Babiry is a classic American dream story.
Coming to the United States 15 years ago without understanding a word of English, no prior schooling, and soon to receive a college degree, …with a potential teaching job in tow, that’s quite an accomplishment.
“It’s all still a dream,” she said.
For the young Kurd, it all started at about age 14 when she, her father, mother and three younger siblings had to flee the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. They left their Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq for a new life in the U.S.
They landed in Nashville, Tenn.- a totally different culture and way of doing things.
“This was all a new experience and yet my siblings and I were required to cope and succeed amid some serious challenges,” Babiry said.
But challenge, for Babiry, was an understatement. It was an awakening.
“For my first time ever in a classroom, I was thrust into the eighth grade at Cameron Middle School, with no understanding of English and totally dumfounded,” she said. “I had a separate interpreter with me in class about three hours a week to guide me through the instructions while the teacher was teaching. Worse yet, at 14 years of age, I was the oldest in the class but understood the least. This was very difficult. I tried to give up several times.”
Thanks to Babiry’s very persistent parents, she hung in there through the daily struggle of trying to complete class assignments – almost always the last to finish.
“My mother was constantly on me not to give up. ‘Never give up; don’t be illiterate like me; I can’t even write my own name,’ she would say,” Babiry added.“For my father, all he wanted me to think about was school. ‘I’ll provide you with everything I can after all I came to America for you, so that I can give to you what I did not have the chance to do in Kurdistan,’ he would say.”
The persistence, struggle and what seemed to Babiry then as harassment, paid off through developmental courses -in middle school, high school, community college. …and now Tennessee State University.
On May 11, she will be among more than 1,000 graduates who will receive their degrees when Tennessee State University holds its spring commencement at Hale Stadium.
She will be the third among her siblings to receive a college degree since arriving in the U.S. Two younger brothers, one in Mechanical Engineering and the other in Nursing, have also graduated from TSU. Her youngest sister is pursuing a nursing degree at Middle Tennessee Sate University.
“The idea of graduating May 11 is very surreal because I have been through so much and there were many times that I was not sure I would get through the Praxis exams,” said Babiry, who will receive her degree in Early Childhood Education. “It is even more special to know that my parents will finally see me graduate after many years of hard work. I am thankful to Allah the almighty for their support and for giving me the strength and some very important people who understood my situation and encouraged me along the way.”
While Babiry tries to forget the painful past, she is reminded of “teachers who treated me badly because I did not understand like the other students” did.
“I have made a promise not to do that to my students. Instead, I will be like those who did everything they could to make sure I fit in, understood and treated me with respect and not like I was a burden. A kind word and a little encouragement go a long way; believe me,” she said, giving recognition to some of her TSU professors, especially Dr. Graham Matthews, her senior advisor.
“I had some good teachers, but Dr. Matthews, Ms. (Deborah) Bellamy (also at TSU), and Dr. Tammy Lipsey (Reading Clinical Coordinator for the Metro School System) are heaven sent,” she said. “They were never too busy to make sure I was doing the right thing.”
In addition to her degree, Babiry has completed all certifications required for teaching, with the exception of the English Language Learners Certification or endorsement required to teach in the schools in her area. She should get that certification soon, she said.
She is currently a student teacher at Haywood Elementary School in Nashville.
“I am really enjoying student teaching. I love seeing my students’ faces every day and helping them,” said Babiry, who also worked as a substitute teacher with the Metro School System. “I have a heart for children. Like many immigrants, I have experienced many hardships in my life, and I am certain that because of my experience, I will be the best role model for my students.”
Babiry seeks no pity, even though it took her seven years to complete her college work, including two years off to focus on passing the Praxis, which she attempted 13 times before finally passing, and spending her first two years of college taking ELL classes and developmental course, she feels stronger.
“This was all because of the difficulty with the English language,” she said. “But I am thankful I stuck with it. I am stronger, more confident, and with my education, I am ready to face the world.”