Santa Clara Magazine

No Strangers Here

No Strangers Here

By Grace Ogihara & Eryn Olson

Portraits of refugees in black and white. From Ameera Naguib’s series Sacred Spaces. View full image. Photo by Ameera Naguib
Ameera Naguib ’16 was one of three SCU students to study abroad in Jordan in 2014. Inspired by her work there, she returned to become an advocate for refugees on local soil.

1. THE VALUE OF PI

Naguib knew that running a Girl Scouts program in Jordan working with refugee girls from Syria and Iraq wouldn’t have much to do with Thin Mints. Instead, it led to Raspberry Pi.

While studying diplomacy and policy in Jordan in 2014, Naguib interned for WeekdayRx, a company that consults with NGOs. Through it, she took on a project that brought the Girl Scouts program to 20 refugee girls near the capital, Amman, where camps hold some 80,000 people.

The program emphasized psychosocial goals. To earn badges, girls spent weeks learning first aid, gardening, and art—with some important differences. Art projects were tailored to dealing with trauma; for first aid, the trainers were careful not to trigger memories of the horrors from which the girls had escaped.

Girls could also earn a badge in computer programming. At SCU, Elijah Reynolds, who teaches Arabic language, encouraged Naguib to apply for a Willem P. Roelandts and Maria Constantino-Roelandts Grant supporting STEM projects that foster social good. With funding, Naguib purchased 10 small Raspberry Pi computers to teach girls basic programming.

Yannik and Ismael on the steps of the Immanuel House in San Jose. The Immanuel House is run by a local Presbyterian Church and houses about 12 refugees. Photo by Ameera Naguib

2. CHICKEN AND RICE

“I am American, but a lot of my family is in Egypt,” Naguib says. She grew up in both countries, visiting Egypt most summers. The Middle East also feels like home.

So she understood that it was significant when a tribal leader from a village near the Syrian border invited her and a friend to develop a program for psychosocial development of village children. The tribal leader’s sister ran the local school. Naguib and a friend made the journey north—via car, five different buses, and minibus. They worked with the children at the school. And they found themselves welcomed into a home with six female village elders, listening to gossip, eating a platter of chicken and rice, and drinking tea from the single common cup.

3. DAY OF THANKS

Silicon Valley, November 2015. The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving. A busy travel day, and Naguib was at the San Jose airport for a pickup: a family of refugees from Afghanistan arriving in their new home. As Naguib drove, the father asked question after question. “When do I start my job? What am I going to do? What is going to happen?” Naguib sat with him in his new home in Fremont until 1 in the morning, answering questions and offering assurances.

After returning from Jordan, along with continuing her studies, Naguib began working as leader of a refugee resettlement team for the International Rescue Committee. The IRC, founded at the request of Albert Einstein, himself a refugee, includes as its mission providing relief to people whose lives and livelihood are shattered by conflict and disaster within their country.

For Naguib, much of that work has meant being present—in person or on the phone, whenever she is needed. “There were days when they’d call at 2 in the morning on a Saturday and ask, ‘Ameera, what does it mean that we don’t have work on Monday?’ And I would say, ‘Well, it’s Labor Day. You just don’t have work.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘Who is Martin Luther King?’”

The local resettlement team does airport pickups, finds homes for families, and helps with applications for jobs and social services—ensuring they get food stamps, medical benefits, and refugee cash aid once a month. Most of the refugees Naguib worked with in 2016 came from Afghanistan. Some came through the Special Immigrant Visa program for Iraqis or Afghans who helped the United States: as contractors, as translators for the Army, or as cooks for the Marines.

For some, it wasn’t easy to accept Naguib’s role. “They’re like, ‘Who is this young woman telling me how I’m going to live my life? What is this country? Women don’t actually do things where I’m from.’” Naguib also had to offer an occasional reality check—if, say, “Somebody is telling refugees back in their home country that they’re going to come to America with a mansion and a pool, and it’s going to be like Hollywood, and it’s going to be amazing, it’s up to people like me to tell them, ‘No, just kidding. You have to work at Safeway for a few months and live in a tiny apartment with your family until you can get used to [it]. It’s going to be hard.’”

Naguib finished working with the IRC recently. She graduated in June, honored with the Richard J. Riordan Award for outstanding community service, and took on responsibilities as a team leader on a research project in political science.

Grace Ogihara ’16 and Eryn Olson ’16 are editorial assistants for Santa Clara Magazine.

  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
  • Photography by Ameera Naguib
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