Gagan is an example of how perseverance on the tutor’s part pays off. Gagan at age 7 came to our program after the family arrived from the camps in Nepal. He was undoubtedly the worst behaved student we have ever had. He would come each week and pound on the piano. We would alphabetize all 80 of the name tags, and with a swoop of his hand he would undo all our work. He had some great tutors who had a lot of patience. When they weren’t able to come and I would give him to another tutor, they would say, "Don’t ever give me that child again." He was always testing people.
I went to the parents over and over. The mother would say, "I can’t control him." Things got so bad I had to suspend him twice, and finally expel him. The following year he came all dressed in nice clothes and said, "I am ready to be good, and would like to come back to the program." Although he continued to test people, his behavior was definitely improved.
Gagan went on to win a city wide writing competition put on by St. John Fisher College when he was in 7th grade. He won a scholarship to McQuaid, and is an "A" student. Two years ago, he was the speaker for McQuaids big fundraiser-The annual dinner/auction. Those that were there said, "There wasn’t a dry eye in the house." In his speech, he said the best part of his week was Thursday, when he came to tutoring, because there, people cared about him. This year he was selected to go to nationals for the speech and debate team. He also was an excellent tutor for our program for 2 years.
It is always a joy to see one of our students excel as Gagan has. He has become such a fine young man due to the help and perseverance of many.
Acha Daw and her children Bilal (19), Addu (12), and Catherina (10) arrived in America from Sudan in 2008, and joined our tutoring program. I still remember how the mother always came a half hour early, and sat on the stairs of the stage with her head down for two years. She had good reason. Her husband and two of her children had been murdered -- the children for being educated. Abdu and Catherina picked up English quickly. Bilal and his mother would only smile or shake their head, and never speak if I asked them a question. We thought there was no progress. Then, that summer, two years after they arrived, I went to their housing area to deliver a baby crib and other baby items to a family. I got out of the car and there was Acha Daw and Bilal. Acha Daw was all dressed up and had a big smile on her face. She was going to start a new job. Bilal was driving and they were both speaking to me in excellent English. I always use them as an example if a tutor is getting discouraged about the progress they think their student is not making. We never know how much they are taking in and if they just need to overcome their embarrassment at possibly saying the wrong thing.
It was approaching midnight on a clear summer evening in 2007. Three sleepy, but excited, preschool girls stared wide-eyed at the airport lights as the Jet Blue Airbus taxied into its gate. The girls' parents, Islam Aliyev and Maira Dursunova, anxiously searched for the familiar faces of Islam's two brothers who had emigrated as refugees to the United States several months earlier. It had been a frightening experience, but also a hopeful one.
Now, a decade later, the lives of all five family members have changed significantly. All are now U.S. citizens. Two years ago, they purchased a home in Henrietta. Islam recently received his commercial driver's license, and has traveled throughout this country, seeing first hand many of the sights he had previously only heard about. His short-term plan is to find local employment, so that he can return to MCC where he is studying Business. Maira is presently working part-time, while also attending MCC in pursuit of a degree in Food Administration, a field that complements her well-known culinary expertise. All three girls attend, "Our Lady of Mercy," where their names are regularly posted on the Honor Roll listings. Life for all five is busy, challenging and unpredictable.
On the wall in the family room of their home, there hangs a picture of a landscape that exudes serenity, in sharp contradiction to the oppression that they suffered before coming to America. Maira says that she likes the picture but, more importantly, it serves as a daily reminder of the assistance provided to them by Saint's Place ten years earlier. It is one of the furnishings given to them when they moved into their first apartment in Rochester.
A combination of energy, generosity and religious faith bodes well for their futures. They are proud to be Americans, and we are proud that they are with us.