Layalee Beirat is a young women who is originally from Palestine and lives in a suburb of Chicago. She enjoys spending her time volunteering at Islamic Relief and Pious Projects, and dedicates her passion to help Syrian refugees. She aspires one day to be a pharmacist. Here, she shares her narrative on being the first in her family to graduate college. Her favorite food is Maklooba.

When I think of my association to Islam, I see it as a way of living. I love my religion. My family is from Palestine. My grandfather was the first one to leave in search for a better living in America. He was doing well financially when he came here, to the United States. When my parents got married, they decided to live in America as they were hoping to make money and eventually go back once they were stable. Consequently, I lived in Palestine for my high school years; I spent my first few years in the United States. My parents made me live in Palestine to gain the cultural aspect. Living there has really made me thankful for everything. When I came back here for college, I was happy to be inside a campus that is aesthetically pleasing with many other cultures and a great staff.

At my community college, I am involved with Muslim student groups. We try to gain good deed through actions. We come together and see each other as a little family, probably because everyone who comes in feels comfortable. We welcome everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim. Every week at our meetings, we would have a topic to discuss. For example, one topic was central on the theme of respecting our parents, because you usually don’t see that among teenagers. Additionally, we are proud of starting a refugee drive on campus. Together with my peers, we collected new and well conditioned clothing, shoes, hygiene products, and school supplies. We delivered all these things to the Syrian refugees in Jordan, and even had donations.

I was also part of a student group that hosted a Syrian benefit dinner. We were just volunteers, but we did most of everything like setting up the tables and sell raffle tickets. With every joy there can be barriers. One of the challenges I face wearing the hijab is that people question my capabilities. It’s hard for people to fathom that I can do certain things, such as speaking well with people. I also remember when I was 7 years old, walking around in the mall. Two ladies were looking at my mom (she wore the hijab) and they whispered something and glared. I didn’t know what they said, but I know that it wasn’t anything that was pleasant. Looking back at that time now, I have noticed that even young kids can notice discrimination.

In wanting to know more about my culture, I asked my grandparents about how it was living in Palestine when they were young. We remember that day every year on May 15, Nakba Day.  Stories such as that makes me realize that I have a lot to be grateful for. I was amazed when my mother shared with me that she got married in her early age because she couldn’t go to school. There was really nothing else women could do. I could not imagine not going to school. I know that having an education is a privilege. I have taken full advantage of my dream of becoming a pharmacist one day.  Getting accepted in to UIC College of Pharmacy is one of my greatest achievements. I am the first generation in my family to study in college, and my parents are proud of me.

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