In an instant, Nibras Khudaida’s joy changed to fear. The rush of the last day of school, and earning the student of the year award, abruptly ended as she and her classmates in the small Iraq village of Sreshka looked ahead and saw a dreaded situation come to life. In the flat plains, a mob of people was coming closer to their village. Islamic State fighters were descending — much faster than anticipated.
“We thought there was no way. We have an army, we’d fight at least, have a warning to leave,” Khudaida says.
Quickly, Khudaida ran home, gathering together with her family, taking only her passport and the clothes on her back, to escape the Islamist militants. Twelve people piled into a small car to flee north.
At 16, Khudaida’s life changed forever, a journey that would lead to immigrating to Lincoln, Nebraska, and then joining Creighton University’s Class of 2022.
Now a freshman in the Heider College of Business, Khudaida is focused on education equality for Iraqis, a journey that led her to the United Nations’ Youth Assembly in February, where she served as a delegate for Iraq.
“I want to make things better for students back home,” Khudaida says. “I want everybody to have the opportunities that I have right now in the United States.”
Attending school as a woman in Iraq was especially challenging. People questioned her family for sending Khudaida to school, but her father, a strong advocate for education, insisted she go.
“He loved education,” Khudaida says. “He said, ‘If I’m going to send my son to school, why not send you to school?’”
When she first came to the U.S. in 2015, Khudaida didn’t speak English, and she took English-language learners (ELL) classes at Lincoln North Star High School.
“There’s a metaphor that my dad used to say to me all the time, ‘deaf in a party.’ The whole first year, I didn’t know the language. You go to a party, the music is playing, you don’t understand anything,” Khudaida says.
Khudaida practices the Yazidi faith. Yazidis are a religious minority in mostly Muslim Iraq and have been persecuted for centuries. In 2014, thousands died in Iraq after an Islamic State invasion of Sinjar, leading to U.S. intervention and airstrikes.
“It’s difficult to be treated for the way you were born,” Khudaida says, referring to her Yazidi faith. “That was the best part about America, nobody asked you about your religion. They cared about you as a person.”
Lincoln is a safe haven for Khudaida’s family and other Yazidis. Nebraska’s capital city is home to the largest population of Yazidis in the United States, about 3,000. The tight-knit ethnic community welcomes new incoming Yazidi immigrants the moment their flights land.
Advancing in ELL classes and joining the speech and debate team at North Star gave Khudaida the confidence to succeed in school and to attend Creighton.
“I knew about Creighton when I was back home (in Iraq),” Khudaida says. “I searched every single college in the U.S. I was so excited about all these opportunities. It was, for me, a dream.”
She hopes to make those opportunities available for others in Iraq, starting programs in refugee camps and advocating for education reform.
Khudaida shared her story with the Malala Fund. You can watch her video about life in the U.S. here.
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