Mawa Tabir’s Story
As retold by Rachael Hinton
I have been many things in my life, a woman, a wife, an activist, and an immigrant, but my most welcome title is that of mother. I strive to always do what is best for my children, pushing through my own personal strife to provide what they need. My only hope is for their happy and successful futures.
In my home country, Sudan, I worked as a human rights activist. I advocated for and educated the women and children of my community. My husband and I took great risks to push back against a dangerous regime and the horrors of civil war. He endured arrest and torture for two years for his actions as a politician. We fled to Cairo, Egypt and from there entered the Unites States.
I might have stayed and continued the resistance, if not for our children. I dreaded the idea of them being raised surrounded by such violence. I dreamed of the better education they could receive, and what they could become if able to reach their full potential.
We entered the United States as refugees, drawn by the promise of freedom. We were predominantly helped by relatives of my husband. We were offered assistance by an organization, but turned it down, because we had the resources available to be self-sufficient. I wished for the organization’s help to go towards families who truly needed it.
Within three weeks of arriving, I went to work. Everyone at home had gone to work or school and the house was empty. I had friends who worked in a hotel, and I was given a position as a housekeeper. This was a difficult adjustment for me. Back home, our household had maids and I was never responsible for those duties. Suddenly, I found myself washing and cleaning. When the supervisor told me, “Wash this, clean that,” I was overwhelmed. It was a very stark indicator that my life was going to be different now. Eventually, I was able to adapt to my new circumstances, and think of the situation as an opportunity. At the hotel, I learned to interact and socialize with people in the new culture I found myself in. I did not work there for very long, but the experience has stayed with me throughout the years.
For many years, my husband worked as a physician and I dedicated myself to our five children. I also enrolled in college, first with a major in psychology and then in social work, seeking to better my community as I did in Sudan.
This strong sense of community is the value I tried hard to continue from my home culture and to instill in my children. Back home, it was difficult to tell who was related to whom, because everyone is related through blood or emotional bond, and they all help each other. They share food, beds, money, everything. If someone doesn’t have food or money, it is not a struggle back home. Even if someone only has a small amount of money, they are going to share it with their neighbor, or even a stranger. This is one skill I wanted my children to have and they do. Other than this, I let them experience everything and make their own way in life.
My children have always been my greatest motivation. When I found myself in a dark place, they were the light that guided me back to myself. I suffered a great deal of tragedy in a short time, the death of a friend and my husband, and a breast cancer diagnosis. For quite a while, I stayed at home and wondered how to continue on. I found that life had lost meaning to me, and I struggled to bring back the spark that previously made me who I am. That all changed though, when one day I realized that my children needed me. With the loss of my husband, I was all they had left. If I could not find my own reasons to go out into the world again, I knew I needed to do it for them.
I am glad that I did, because now I have found many new ways to interact with my community and continue my passion for activism. Although, I have struggled through war, persecution, and loss, I still feel that there is goodness and light to be found in people. The faith that my children have brought to me, I wish to share with others. I will continue to do my best to bring this sense of hope and community to those who need it, and to advocate for those whose voices have been silenced.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.