Rooha’s family moved from Dallas to the suburbs, but she still drives the 15 miles back into her old neighborhood, Vickery Meadow, to finish high school. It’s where she feels most at home.
Many of the other students at her school are refugees like her and struggle with English just as she did when she arrived, and she serves as a beacon for others to see what can be accomplished in just a few short years in the United States.
Rooha’s family lived in Iran until she was 11, when they made the difficult decision to flee in the face of religious persecution. Her family is Baha’i, a religious minority in Iran whose rights are restricted.
Baha’is can’t go to official universities in Iran, and Baha’i-owned businesses are routinely shut down. Rooha remembers having to use code words on the telephone when discussing anything to do with her religion. Government men once broke into her mother’s house when her mother was young, looking for evidence that would incriminate the family.
In the summer of 2011, Rooha’s family had a meeting to discuss their future. With limited educational opportunities in Iran, they made the difficult decision to flee to Turkey, where they would seek refugee status. Because the family’s persecution was religious rather than political, their waiting period was shorter than most. After a little more than a year in Turkey, they were granted passage to the United States.
Landing in Dallas, Rooha said she expected the US to be greener than it was, and thought they would immediately have a house with a yard and a dog. Though her family has purchased a house, Rooha is still waiting on a canine.
Rooha remembers having to translate for her parents at the doctor or with insurance companies, though she only had a few months in the country herself. It is a feeling many immigrant children know well. “Every refugee child knows making a phone call is so stressful,” she says. “There are no context clues.”
English came easily, and Rooha maintained stellar grades from the moment she arrived. She began to play the violin and was accepted into a prestigious fine arts magnet school, but chose to stay at her home school to be closer to her community.
In ninth grade, a representative from the World Affairs Council asked Rooha to tell her family’s story of persecution and escape in a speech to her high school, and from there she has gone on to give several speeches in Dallas and all over the country, including traveling to New York and giving a speech for the International Rescue Committee.
Her work with refugee advocacy gave Rooha a desire to give back to her people and the refugee community. Rooha wants to aid the oppression that women, journalists and minorities experience in her home country by going to law school. “There needs to be something done for them,” she says.
Rooha balances her advocacy work with her celebrated photography. Her project, Humans of Vickery Meadow, photographs and interviews people in her neighborhood, capturing their story in words and image. It was featured at Love Field Airport in Dallas.
Despite the perception of the refugee community, Rooha sees her neighborhood as generous and exciting, and its part of the reason she keeps her life in the community. She serves the area often, knocking on doors and offering help to others. “If you knock, they will invite you in,” she says. “They will offer you food and are so nice.”