IRIS-Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services

Leaning into Her Dreams

© Rachel Peet


When I was in 9th grade, there was a bomb attack in front of my school. I remember at that time, I so badly wanted to help the victims. The bomb was inside a car, and there was a woman inside that car, who couldn’t be saved. I wish I had the capability or experience to help her.”

Since the days of bomb attacks near her school in Afghanistan, Aqsa* has harbored a deep-seated desire to support others, especially those in medical distress, a passion that has endured throughout her journey from being an IRIS client to her current role as a Data Reporting Specialist and soon-to-be nurse

Aqsa arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan in January 2020, just before the pandemic brought global travel to a standstill. Despite being initially slated for 10th grade, Aqsa was determined not to regress academically. Within two weeks, her grades earned her a placement in 12th grade. 

She navigated senior year challenges (online learning, college applications, pandemic-related restrictions, and adapting to new cultural norms), and graduated with a 4.0 GPA, with aspirations to attend Yale University. But with limited resources, she decided to take her time to fully integrate into American culture, and opted for Gateway Community College.

Drawing from familial anecdotes from both Afghanistan and beyond, Aqsa knew that she wanted to receive a nursing education in the U.S. As she grew up in Afghanistan, she witnessed many doctors accomplishing medical procedures with few resources. 

“It’s incredible to witness surgeons performing procedures without anesthesia. That’s the kind of impactful work I aspire to do. Completing my education and gaining experience here in the States, then using that knowledge to assist those in conflict zones would fulfill my deepest dreams.”

In less than a year of settling into her new life in Connecticut, Aqsa was already extending a supportive hand to other young women— she co-lead IRIS’ Young Women’s Leadership Group and was an assistant teacher in IRIS’ Summer Learning program. 

“When I was an assistant teacher in IRIS’ Summer Learning Program –  which I did for two summers – someone got hurt one time, and I helped them with all the knowledge I now have from receiving an education in the States thus far. This made me overjoyed. Now I’m at an age with sufficient experience where I don’t feel that I have to simply walk away.” 

Aqsa has forged profound connections with IRIS employees, which have had an everlasting impact on her journey as a caregiver. Within just five months of her arrival, an IRIS employee offered her the opportunities to work as a translator for the organization and further cultivate meaningful relationships.

“I am deeply grateful for the unwavering support of my community, particularly individuals like Laurel. Despite my initial concerns about my English proficiency upon arriving in the States, Laurel recognized my potential and invited me to join IRIS. Her encouragement and belief in my abilities motivated me to become a translator and co-leader for the young women’s group. I am indebted to her for seeing qualities in me that I had not yet recognized.”

A resilient mindset nurtured within her IRIS community has molded Aqsa into the accomplished woman and aspiring nursing student she is today. Whether she finds herself in the U.S. or a war-torn country, the fusion of Afghan and American cultures has emphasized the profound significance of human connection and community.

“In my home country, we like to say that you’re not just a doctor of one thing, but of many different things and for all people. I will be sure to continue bringing forward that mindset as a nurse here in the States – wherever I go.”

Aqsa wholeheartedly believes that by nurturing community, she walks toward her dreams, and being amongst community, she lives out those dreams.”

*Name has been altered for privacy.


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