Muslim teens honored for efforts in guiding youngsters - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Muslim teens honored for efforts in guiding youngsters

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Posted: Thursday, January 19, 2012 7:47 am | Updated: 10:18 am, Fri Jan 20, 2012.

It’s arguably the most quoted section of what is widely considered to be the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he said on Aug. 28, 1963.

It was this quote that echoed throughout Tempe’s Diversity Awards ceremony Monday at a community brunch to honor local community members and groups who demonstrate a commitment to diversity.

As part of the award judging, it is clear that local Muslim teenagers Fabiha Alam and Fatima Warsame were judged by the content of their character, and honored accordingly. 

The two young women, one in high school and the other attending her first year of college, were awarded the Diversity Award in the education division. The two teach and tutor students at their local mosque after school, on weekends and during school breaks, often helping with homework and focusing on subjects students struggle with. Most of the other tutors are adults, the two said.

Warsame, who attended Corona del Sol High School, is currently a freshman at Columbia University majoring in biochemistry. Alam is a junior at Marcos de Niza High School, where she excels in chemistry and math. 

“I learned a lot of patience,” Alam said about her teaching experience. “I’ve had to find different ways to explain things.” 

Most of the students they teach are in elementary school, but some are as old as ninth graders. Many of the students are refugees who have learned English as their second language and need additional help with school work, said Sheik Hanif Seedat, head cleric at Masjid Omar Ibn Al-Khattab in Tempe. 

“Many parents can’t help with homework,” Seedat said. Seedat was one of the nominators for the two. 

The two can relate to their students in some ways — both Warsame and Alam learned English as their second language after moving to the United States as young children. 

While Alam was asked to help out in the after-school program, she has devoted about two years of winter and summer breaks and nearly every weekend to helping the kids. 

“I like teaching and getting kids to understand what they’re learning,” she said. “Little kids are entertaining.”

Since attending Columbia, Warsame only teaches during her breaks, something she’s been doing for over two years now. 

But perhaps the most frustrating part of the job is getting students to pay attention and respect them as teachers since Alam and Warsame are close in age to a few of the students, they said. 

“They’re not getting a grade,” Warsame said. “Sometimes they think it’s a free opportunity to talk with friends.”

That being said, working with the children is ultimately rewarding, the two agreed.

“They can be inspiring,” Alam said. “Little kids can show you a lot of things.”

The two also hope to inspire their students in turn. 

“Mostly, it’s about showing them a lot more than what they learn at school,” Warsame said. “It’s about showing them their potential instead of memorizing things.”

Charles Cobbs, Gerri Mattern and Ed Mitchell were also recognized for individual division awards. Cristian Castro, Gabriella Chevalier, Mia Khan and Leilani Redmond received the individual youth division awards. Tempe Neighbors Helping Neighbors and Mulligan’s Manor received the award for the community group or organization division.

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