Attending: Saint Joseph's University
Award Use: Summer Hawks Program
Travel Stipend Use: Summer Hawks Program
We knew a little about Refathun’s story from the nomination her principal wrote and the narrative Refathun supplied us as part of her application. Refathun came as an undocumented student to the United States from Bangladesh when she was 16 years old. Her father had recently died, leaving her household without the important patriarchal and financial figure considered the norm within her country’s culture and gender traditions. She and her younger sister joined her aunt’s home, where Refathun assumed numerous domestic responsibilities along with the tasks any striving teenager tackles: homework, extracurriculars, and personal pursuits.
With six hours committed daily to her aunt’s household needs, Refathun had to be strategic about creating space for all she wanted to achieve. She set her course to learn English, to assimilate into a new culture and community, and to comprehend the intricacies of our American school system. She learned to advocate for herself and to track down teachers during the day so she could be certain she understood her studies and current homework. She prioritized her work so she could squeeze in time for community service at school and in her neighborhood. And she excelled. When she graduated from West Philadelphia High School, Refathun was number one in her class of 110 students, the president of her school’s student government, an inductee into the National Honor Society, and a volunteer who had banked more than 100 hours of community service.
She achieved all of this so she could put in place the first piece toward her life goal. Refathun aspires to receive a medical degree in the United States before returning to Bangladesh to open two hospitals—one for women and another for girls—groups she sees devalued and sidelined in her home country. She puts the next piece in place this fall when she joins the class of 2020 at St. Joseph’s University.
Listen to Refathun tell her story.
Photo by Conrad Benner / Streets Dept