From left, Jessica Panmo, Jemima Imul Rodriguez, Gehisha Caraballo, Henry Chavez Ramirez, Fereshtah Tajiki, Yosra Girdia, Lorvendy Dabel, Shimendi Tewolde, Noor Muhammad at the Living in Two Worlds Film Festival 2016 at Lynn Classical High School.
BY GAYLA CAWLEY
LYNN — Yosra Girdia endured horror in Libya at the hands of ISIS before making her way to the United States.
She is one of 10 students who shared their stories as part of Lynn Classical’s Living in Two Worlds Film Festival. The three minute films were shown last week for 700 people.
The program, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation, examines the challenges and rewards of life as bicultural teens. The high school is seeking a new donor for the upcoming year.
Girdia, 18, a junior at Lynn Classical High School, said she lived in her native land when the Islamic State terrorist organization invaded and killed people. The group kidnapped her brother and his best friend about five years ago. As a warning to her brother that he was next, ISIS returned him alive in a box with the body of his murdered best friend.
She said ISIS also kidnapped her female cousin and tried to rape her, but luckily she escaped.
After arriving in America, her brother got help for his post traumatic stress disorder and is recovering. Girdia said she is happy now and appreciates the opportunity to live in a free country. In Libya, she wasn’t allowed to attend school.
“I feel like I was given a second chance,” Girdia said.
Alexis Kopoulos, coordinator for the Living in Two Worlds program, said the stories gave students a new perspective.
“I think they were really unaware of some of the challenges their classmates went through,” Kopoulos said.
Fereshtah Tajiki, 18, a junior, said her parents are from Afghanistan but she is from Iran. Her struggles started after her father died and no one was left to take care of her family. After he died, her family registered for resettlement. She went briefly to Europe two years ago, before settling in the U.S.
When Tajiki was in Iran, refugees were only allowed certain jobs. Now in Lynn, she has the opportunity to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer.
“People who are here should know how much education is worth,” Tajiki said. “They should take advantage. The reason I came here was for education.”
Lorvendy Dabel, a 16-year-old junior, is from Haiti. His father and two siblings came to the U.S. first, but he, his mother and younger brother had to stay behind for 10 years. In Haiti, school is not free. As a result, his father had to pay for their education.
In Haiti, Dabel said violence and gun shootings are common, and when they happen, people have to hide inside the house. He made his way to the states in 2013.
Norma Esteban, 20, a junior from Guatemala, said her parents died when she was young. Her mother took her own life when Esteban was 6 and her father died from diabetes in 2009.
When she was just 12, Esteban was taking care of her siblings alone. Her older sister helped before making her way to the U.S. She had to quit school in sixth grade because she couldn’t afford it. She worked for farmers who paid her less because she wasn’t educated.
Today, she lives with her older sister after leaving Guatemala in 2013. She continues to work 40 hours a week while attending school, but is thankful for the free education.
“I feel happy now,” Esteban said.
Jemima Imul Rodriguez, 19, a senior, is from Guatemala and sought to escape the violence. In her native country, she said gangs sometimes kill people for no reason. If someone is walking on the streets with a phone and doesn’t want to give it up, the gangs will kill for it. She arrived at her new home in 2013.
“I feel like there’s more freedom and I’m not afraid to walk in the streets,” Rodriguez said.
Henry Chavez-Ramirez, 18, a sophomore, came to America in 2013, and went to live with his brother. His parents remain in Guatemala and he can call his mother every two weeks. He misses his family, but said things are better since he learned English.
Eighteen-year-old sophomore Noor Muhammad, said he was considered a refugee in Malaysia, despite being born there, and couldn’t attend school. His parents are from Myanmar. He arrived in the U.S. in 2014 with his family and struggled with the language at first, but is now happy.
Shimendi Tewolde, 19, a junior, is from Eritrea. He came to the U.S. by himself and lives with a foster mother. He doesn’t think his family will join him. When he made the journey, he left in the middle of the night and didn’t say goodbye to his mother. He has contact with her sometimes and is grateful for the free education.
Gehisha Caraballo, a senior, is from Puerto Rico. She and her mother came to the U.S. to be by her grandmother’s side as she was dying of cancer.
Jessica Panmo, a sophomore, is originally from Cameroon. In her video, she talks about the corruption and how her father came to the U.S. first to be able to afford to have the rest of the family join him.
Jaclyn Fisher, program coordinator, said it gives her goosebumps to see the films on the big screen in front of an audience.
“Every year that we do it, it’s a completely moving experience,” she said.
Gayla Cawley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley