Making Positive Change Through Storytelling

This month’s Thought Leader article is written by Ikhlas Mohammed. Ikhlas is a Senior Youth Coordinator at New American Pathways and came to the US as a refugee in 2018. For World Refugee Day and as part of our Refuge-JOY series on creative expression, she is sharing her story and how her creative writing has been a tool she uses to both reflect on her life and impact others in a positive way.

My name is Ikhlas Mohammed, I am originally from Sudan. I was born in a very poor family, and my family has been through difficult situations throughout our life. However, despite everything my parents were so dedicated to giving us the quality education that changes our lives. I am dedicated to helping others thrive and make positive change in people’s lives through education and storytelling.

This quality was developed inside me by the support of different people throughout my difficult childhood and early adult life. The person who made the greatest impact on my life is my mother. She worked as a Tea Seller and went through many challenges. She had chronic asthma and spent many days during the rainy season in the hospital, but even then, she would keep working to support her family. The Public Order Police in Sudan would arrest my mother and others for selling in the streets, which was hard to see as her daughter, as she was working for our education and future. Alongside that my mum used to work as a cleaner in a school that my father worked for as a guard.  We used to live in that school in a one-bedroom house space with all my siblings and parents.  My father also worked as a tailor and spent much of his time working to support his family.  At the same time, my mother was supporting many kids who were homeless in our community by giving them food and advice and taking them to hospital if needed. Two of those kids are now working and building their own successful lives because of her support and advice.

I grew up in this family with an exceptionally strong mother and supportive father, and my first goal was to succeed in my schooling to make them proud of me. My long-term goal was to become a person of inspiration in many people’s lives through education and writing by helping people to thrive and bring out the best of them. I decided that working with a nonprofit organization was the best place to do that. I kept my high level of academic success until I graduated from the University. I joined the UN immediately after my graduation and this was my dream, but I felt the need to do more than that to be more of a help for other people. I started volunteering by teaching kids English Language in displacement camps and our neighborhood, and conducting awareness raising sessions for women and youth in refugee camps. This path put me in the spotlight and I went through different challenges and obstacles due to my activism.

After graduation, I took the responsibility of our household since my mother was sick and no longer able to work, and my father retired from one of his jobs. I also took the responsibility of continuing the education of my younger siblings and purchased a house so we could live in our own home for the first time in our lives. This step has made great changes in our lives, my younger siblings kept following the same path and achieved success. Overall, I consider the challenges we grew through as a way to learn how to be certain during the uncertainty, striving and growing through the pain. 

My activism put my life in danger, so I came to the US as a refugee in 2018 while holding my dreams, my mother’s inspiration, and my promise to help make the world a better place through helping other people to thrive. My role with New American Pathways as Senior Youth Coordinator has been a great opportunity to live my potential and challenge myself in a new country. I feel so grateful when I see the students in our afterschool program achieving their educational and socio-emotional wellbeing through the services they receive from our afterschool program. 

I started writing when I was a teenager. Writing helps me with self-awareness, love and healing.  I also saw my writing being a source of strength and inspiration for others. For that, I decided to keep writing, translate the pieces I already wrote, and become more inclusive. I also appreciate New American Pathways for giving me the opportunity to share part of my story, because I have been away from writing for a while because of my responsibilities. Writing and storytelling is where I find my true self, and I am looking forward to keeping this part of my life visible and productive.