Naef’s 2016 UNH Viacom Scholarship Award speech

May 23, 2016

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Alf mabrook to our high school student Naef Othman, who was awarded a 2016 United Neighborhood Houses Viacom Scholarship. When Naef arrived to New York from Yemen, he did not know English. He first visited our center in 2011, and spoke about the ways in which AAFSC has changed his life in a speech at the award ceremony. Read Naef’s speech here:

Hello honorable guests, fellow friends and family. My name is Naef Othman. I am 18 years old and I am a graduating senior at the School for International Studies. I am Yemeni-American and I have been living in Brooklyn for five years. I am honored to be a recipient of the UNH Viacom 2016 College Scholarship so I would like to start by thanking everyone at Viacom and UNH for this incredible opportunity. I am grateful to the people at Viacom and UNH for their support of higher education and for their efforts supporting aspiring young leaders who are trying to make positive contributions to their communities. I would also like to give thanks to my family, my friends, and an extra special thanks to the Arab American Family Support Center. Thank you for supporting and nominating me for this precious award and for teaching  me how to survive in between cultures in America.  

When I first arrived in America I had never met people who weren’t Arab. Coming to America was shocking because I suddenly met so many different people but I couldn’t talk to any of them. Not being able to communicate was a very weird feeling and it didn’t feel good.

In school I made two friends, Hadaf and Haroun, who would translate for me when I wanted to talk to my teachers or classmates. They were also immigrants but they came before me and someone had helped them and now it was their turn to do the same. Immigrant communities everywhere help each other in this way. It is a long chain of people arm in arm helping each other and one day it would be my turn to help someone else.

I started going to the AAFSC when I started school. My grandfather found out about the center through his friends and thought it would be a good way to learn English and get some tutoring for school. It was the best decision he made for me since we had come to America. I even convinced Hadaf and Haroun to join me at the AAFSC! At the AAFSC I met other students who were recent immigrants as well. I loved my friends Hadaf and Haroon but having a whole group of people who understand you in the middle of a new, large and confusing city was comforting in a very deep way. We all helped each other, and played games and relaxed at the center. The AAFSC became our second home. They helped us form a soccer team that played in the NYPD youth league and other leagues in the city. From the staff I learned to be a more active and tolerant member of my community who is always willing to help others. I am so glad they have helped me prepare not only for college, but for life. Thank you AAFSC for helping me get this scholarship for the next chapter of my life!

I am trying my best to be a positive role model and to be a leader in my community through example. At P.S. 29, a local elementary school, I tutor younger students who need help with English. They look up to me because I have been where they are now. I understand the struggles of growing up in an immigrant family and not speaking English well. My work in P.S. 29 is very similar to my volunteer work with youth at the AAFSC, except the students are not limited to just Yemeni or Arab. The community in Brooklyn is very diverse. Even though they are not Arab, they still live in my neighborhood and are a part of my larger Brooklyn community, and our community functions best for everyone when we work together to help each other. In many ways, I have learned that just because we are different doesn’t mean we don’t experience the same struggles.  The AAFSC has changed how I see the world and it’s proof of how important and effective tools community centers can be.

After graduating from International Studies, I am planning to attend LaGuardia Community College in the Fall of 2016 to study electrical engineering. This award means a lot to me because it gives me a chance to support my dreams to go to college. I am the first person in my family to go to college. It is so special that I have this opportunity to be a great example for my family and my community. My message to the students who are planning to go to college is keep up with their work even if it’s hard. It was hard for me in America but I’m here now because I didn’t give up. I would also tell them to never forget those who helped you because we all lean on each other and we all need to do our part. Thank you all for believing in me and helping me and I will make the most of this opportunity.