NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Shaden Awad, a rising senior at New Providence High School, was reading about Syrian refugee families who had fled the horrors in their homeland and were settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey and knew she had to get involved. “I read about the war in the news and tried to comprehend the horrors that many individuals, who before the war were just like you and me, were forced to suffer for absolutely no reason,” said Awad.

One day Awad read an article about ten Syrian refugee families that were living in Elizabeth and instantly decided she had to do something about it. She began to network and finally met with people from the International Rescue Committee. The IRC offers emergency aid and long-term assistance to those displaced by war or persecution. “I was able to prove that I was a valuable asset to helping these families settle in America,” said Awad. She emphasized that she is proficient in Arabic and would be able to help bridge the language barrier.

As soon as she was able to help the families, she understood the many struggles they were facing, “the reverse language barrier we faced, the post-traumatic stress disorder from watching their livelihoods destroyed and the four years of education missed as they were forced to flee their countries, and they were supposed to be the lucky ones,” said Awad. She tutors the families on the weekends, helping both the children and their parents learn English and adapt to American society. She also is helping run a Girl Scout troop for some of the young girls “to help them learn the importance of giving back to society,“ she added.  

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In addition to tutoring, Awad learned from the IRC how to lobby for families' rights with regard to school accommodations.  As they are living in a district with little funding, and since many of the parents have limited English, they are unable to effectively advocate for their children. 

In giving to these families, Awad learned the age-old axiom of receiving, “Throughout this entire journey, I’ve genuinely realized that I need these families more than they need me. The lessons on courage, compassion, and love I have learned from these families has changed my life, and for that I am eternally grateful.”