Nahid Akhtar: Do More Than Learn, Pursue Your Dreams

Nahid Akhtar is a nurse who lives in Louisiana. In her story she shares how her life has transformed in the past 14 years, when she moved to the U.S. and started building her life from scratch.

My name is Nahid Akhtar, and I am an American Muslim.

I have come a long way from where I was 14 years ago. Fourteen years ago, I was a 15-year-old girl that immigrated to the United States from the mountainous and largely uneducated Northwest region of Pakistan, Swat Valley. Swat Valley is subversive to female education and therefore suffers tremendously. When I first arrived to the U.S. I was unread in every conceivable way. I could barely write my own name and had no idea of how or where to start with the change I had to adapt to. What followed was a long but fruitful struggle to adapt, educate and work in my new country. I now have a career in the health care field that I am proud of and have constantly been working to better myself and be of help to others throughout my life.

Swat Valley is unique in a lot of ways. It is beautiful, like its people. Many people tend to be misinformed by what it really is and what it stands for. The area has always gravitated towards liberal values, wanting to educate young girls and boys, but in the same breath, it also always falls in the grip of either a political wave, religious wave or a combination of both. The reason why I was unread and not educated was not because my family didn’t want me to go to school, but because it wasn’t a norm for young girls to go beyond 5th grade, and therefore I had to give up the dream of higher education. The constant and ever present predatory issue plays the biggest role on why families often advocate against sending their girls to school. And this is why the education of girl or lack thereof is largely a security and cultural issue, rather than a religious one. The last three years of what could probably be described as the most important years in early development and child education, I spent it not going to school. As a result, I was left dreaming when I arrived in the U.S.

Needless to say, what followed was not only extremely difficult but also extremely important to overcome. I had to start 6th grade at age 15. When I first started school the goal was to be able to learn how to read and speak English, but when my one of my teachers told my parents that I wasn’t in school just to learn English, but also to pursue my dreams, that changed everything. The irony of the situation was that I didn’t know what my teacher said and had to have my dad translate it for me.

Through very hard work and motivation from every teacher I have come across since my arrival in the U.S., my parents’ complete support and my never-lose attitude, I finally graduated from high school and then college. I am now a transitioned and transformed person that knows where I came from and know where I stand. After 14 years of hard work, I now have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and have been working in the health care for the last three years as a registered nurse. I look back 14 years and think about what my teacher told me, and I realize that that was probably the pinnacle moment of what change was to come. I am now educated, have a career and always think about what’s next.

None of this would have been even remotely possible in the area of the world I came from. Stemming from an observant Muslim background, I still adhere to the principles of my religion and follow it to the best of my abilities. The United States has given me the opportunity to not only be an observant Muslim woman, but also one that is educated in modern sciences and art. This leads me to believe that U.S. is the absolute finest example of a country where anyone could choose to be of any faith, including Islam and many sects within it, and follow it in any capacity with full freedom.

It is an honor for me to be a citizen of the United States, a place that welcomes my religion and the right to be educated. This country lets me feel proud of my background and my family lineage and serves me the opportunity to incorporate it in my personal life. I believe that it’s time for Muslims in the U.S. to be thankful for the opportunity, and stand for freedom and democratic values that this country espouses.