For Zubaidah Harun a new life in America after being a refugee in Malaysia has meant a number of new opportunities and freedoms, but what she values most is the education. In her story she shares why this is so important to her, honest experiences from being bulled in Malaysia as a refugee from Myanmar and how she’s taking the opportunity as the first person in her family to get an education to change the lives of others. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside college and from Milwaukee, WI., but my family is Rohingya, which is from Myanmar, and I was born in Malaysia. I have been raised Muslim, specifically Sunni-Hanafi Muslim. My parents have been married for 24 years, and I am the youngest daughter of five siblings. I am a first generation student in my family — the first to be getting an education instead of marrying.

Education is something I have always wanted to have in my life, and that is why I am in college now. It’s a big part of my identity, and I see education as a solution to any complication because my experiences with and without education have been lucid. Also, education gives me the opportunity to sculpt my own future, something I value since previous generations were forced into marriage at a young age and not given enough freedom, especially daughters.

Throughout a number of difficult experiences I’ve learned that you can’t run away from anything; a problem will not leave until you solve it or face it. I know what it’s like to not have access to education, be allowed to go to school or be taught. My family lived in Malaysia as refugees from Myanmar, but we were forced to leave Myanmar because it became unsafe for Rohingya Muslims to live there without being harmed over religion.

Going to school in Malaysia was not easy. I faced countless attacks of harassment and was bullied for being one of few refugees accepted to a public school. During my time there I learned a great deal; however, it was not the lesson I expected. Instead of education, I learned more about people’s negative views they have of others. In school, I was an object to others who were citizens of Malaysia. I was bullied, rocks were thrown at me, the teachers hit me and I was told to pick up garbage and eat it. I skipped school, and I would hide all day until it was time to go home. School made me feel like I was surrounded by people with no hearts.

My father taught me to not react to the teachers’ and students’ behavior towards me. His advice was to always remain calm, and always treat others how I would like to be treated myself. If I did what they did, then that would make no difference between me and them, and I would be known as evil, cruel or inhumane like them.

My thoughts about education changed when I met an extremely special person, Mohamad Sadek, who was an educated and respected man. He was the man who spoke up for Rohingya and wrote a letter to the UN Refugee Agency formally requesting that many families be allowed to go to place where they can have freedom; my family was one of them. He was unafraid to do what was right, no matter what the cost, and I learned from his example.

From his work I began to understand that with education, no one would ever be able to keep me down, but that without it anyone might be able to kill my spirit. After that, no matter what anyone did, as long as I had my education and my honesty, neither words nor actions held any power over me. Following the examples from Sadek’s life renewed my strength and allowed me to begin classes so I could obtain a valuable education regardless of how people treat me. I also took the initiative to seek tutoring outside of class, and learned more through tutors than I ever did going to school. Sometimes I gave up, but when I thought about Sadek, it brought all my hope back.

Now that I know education is the key, nothing will stop me. I have new opportunities since I moved to America. All my teachers support me, and the students are nice to me. School can be difficult at times, but I will not let it stop me. I know what education means for my future and how important it is in helping me succeed in life. My goal is to be educated like Sadek and inspire others like he inspired me.

Although my experiences from country to country haven’t been easy, I have become a better person because of my parents, teachers, Mohamad Sadek and bullies. My parents taught me how to be patient and love everyone, Mohamad Sadek showed me the power of education, teachers revealed to me the path of education, and lastly the bullies gave me the strength to understand others’ feelings and problems, and respect them. These have always helped me to change myself to a better person.

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