Third Annual Voices of Hartford Success Essay Contest Celebration Hosted by AETNA
Published on May 19, 2016
The Third annual Voices of Hartford Success Essay contest celebration was on May 17 hosted by AETNA. In attendance were relatives of the winners, interested adults, teachers, counselors and about 70 middle school students from Bellizzi and Burns. Superintednent of Schools Beth Schiavino-Narvaez spoke.
The Hartford Consortium of Higher Education is the lead organization in collaboration with AETNA, Hartford Public Schools, and Achieve Hartford!
Each winner receives $500 from the Consortium which goes to the receiving college bookstore and is accessible to the student for books and related supplies.
There were approximately 80 entries! Dr. Narvaez, Wilfredo Nieves (President of Capital Community College and Chair of the Consortium) and Bettina Armour (Executive Director, Global Talent Development, Aetna) were the final judges.
The Consortium for Higher Education hopes to produce a book and a flipbook with selections of essays from the past three years.
Of the winners this year, two will be attending UCONN, two going to Central Connecticut State University, and one to Manchester Community College.
Here are the five winning essays:
Liliana Garcia – Bulkeley High School
When I was 12 years old, my dad decided to come to the United States from El Salvador in hopes of providing for my family and I. My dad tried to provide us a better future, but unfortunately things didn’t work as he’d planned. Since my father was not able to financially help my family, my mom decided to come to the United States when I was fourteen. She came with the same hopes my dad had, and her travel to the United States really affected me negatively. I felt very alone without my mother. I missed her dearly. I even dropped out of school for two years because my mom was not there to encourage me, which I now regret. My education was put on hold, and now I will be nineteen when I graduate from high school. The absence of my mother made me want to come to this country because I wanted to be with my parents, as soon as possible. Around the age of sixteen, I made my own trip to the United States. My mother negotiated with a coyote (a person who illegally transports people), soon after my brother and I were picked up. We traveled through many countries by many types of transportation until reaching Mexico. This is where we had to wait in a holding house for days before being picked up and packed into a car to travel overnight to a river where we crossed in a small boat. After walking for hours in the heat, we were directed to a house that was raided and we were picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and I was put in a shelter in Los Angeles. My mother claimed me and after six weeks she was able to brought me to Connecticut, where I now stay with a legal guardian. While traveling to the United States I did not have books to learn the English language. I knew only Spanish, but at the time I did not knew it was going to be a struggle because I did not though English was harder as it is.
Now that I am in the United States, I want to choose a career where I would be able to help other people and change their lives as my mom did for me. Since she provided me the opportunity to come to this country, she has influenced me to want to take advantage of the countless opportunities. While I do not know exactly what I want to do for a career, I do know that I want to be involved in the community in many ways. I know that through the experience of traveling cross-country, a career will catch my attention that I want to pursue. Whatever career that may be, I know I need to further my education and by doing that I want to start this journey by focusing on studying, reading, writing and speaking the English language. I need to be able to talk to really express myself and be understood. I also want to study Psychology and/or Sociology because I am interested in what people think and why they behave in specific ways. With this knowledge, I can help others that do not have the opportunities that many people do. Without my experience of traveling to the United States from El Salvador, I would not have realized how much I am willing to help others and I know I can achieve this by furthering my education and it will bring me one step closer to improving the lives of others.
Working for the Dream
As a child I lived in a refugee camp in Pathari, Nepal. My house was made up from bamboo and thatch. I lived with my mom, dad, three sisters, and my brother. My family spent twenty years in the refugee camp. Back then, my mom was unable to provide for us. She did her best and worked at construction sites, but our income was never enough to support us. My dad had a mental illness, so he couldn’t work. Our source of income wasn’t enough to afford taking my father to the hospital. We could do nothing but watch him suffer. The place I called home had no electricity, heat, or air conditioning system, even in school. I went to a school called New Horizon Academy. My school didn’t have enough resource, so it was hard to get a good education. Living in refugee, we had no opportunities like scholarships for school, no matter how great your grades are; health care, security for shelter and food.
In 2009, my family and I heard that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was allowing Bhutanese people to come to the United States of America. We filled out some applications and began the process to come to Hartford. In 2012, at 14 years old, I moved to Connecticut from Nepal.
On April 3, 2012, I arrived in Hartford and it was the best day of my life. But I was unable to speak English. Freshman year, I was shocked to see such a beautiful school and teachers. I’d never seen these things in Nepal. Growing up in Nepal I only learned how to speak Nepali, and then moving to United States, it was brand new language to me.
At the school, it was very tough for me to communicate with people. I thought moving to a new country was best day of my life but it wasn’t that way. The students would make fun of my English. The language barrier was a struggle to get past. I would cry because I couldn’t make friends and I missed the friends I had in Nepal. I felt lonely because I missed Nepal, even though it wasn’t a good place for us to live. I didn’t like my new school much and I didn’t like my new environment. American and Nepali food are different and so are the people. I remember telling my mom I wanted to go back Nepal.
Although my parents did not have an educational background, I’ve always thought education is most important thing in life, but I was tired of not knowing anything in my new environment. Soon, I realized I would never learn anything if I stayed quiet. I decided to move forward in my life. I began going to library and begin to read different books. I spent most of my time learning how to read and speak English. Slowly, it began sticking with me. I could communicate with teachers and friends. Freshman year, one of my seminar teachers told me about a program called ConnCAP, which helps minority and migrated students learn more than high school provides and prepare for college. In a short period of time in United States, I have learned to be confident because when I was new here, I was afraid to talk with people. Now I am not shy and afraid to tell my problem to them.
Now I am in a place where I can be anything and I can have any dream. I’ve always dreamed to becoming a doctor since I was little because we had no money for doctors. I want to help sick people. I am capable of anything. I strive for education. I would never give up in my life no matter what the situation is because I want to go to college.
“When Being Strong Was My Only Option”
I am a girl from two worlds. Worlds that I have faced challenges in and worlds that I have gained experience from. Becoming strong when you are alone, when you don’t have someone to turn to was an experience I faced when I was separated from my family. It was especially difficult for me to choose in what “world” I wanted to stay. Would it be the one where I was happy living with the love of my family, or in a new world where I have many opportunities? For me the decision was whether or not I wanted to continue here in a “better” place where I was not happy or go back to my country where the rest of my family lives and part of me does too.
I woke up with the voice of my brother in my ear, “Alana in 15 minutes the plane will land!” My first name is Grecia, but everybody in Peru calls me “Alana” which is my middle name. I opened my eyes. My ears were clogged. When I looked out the airplane window all I could see was that it was really dark. I hardly remember my uncle picking me up at the airport. When I went inside the car I was so tired that I fell asleep again.
Next morning was my first day in the United States. I was excited because I was going to see how the streets were near my new house. My brothers, my father and I were all going to my aunt’s house. As we were in the car I was looking out the window seeing such beautiful places. I was falling in love with the parks and the nature here; it was really different compared to my country. I could already tell by the air that I was inhaling, seeing the blue sky, green trees, big parks and much more. It was a good day and a new experience on how this country really is compared to mine.
Two weeks later, my father told me something I would never have expected to hear. This wasn’t the vacation that he promised; he lied to me. I was going to stay here to live. I could feel my heart break into pieces. I couldn’t talk because of the big knot that I felt in my throat; I broke into tears. I was thinking about how different my life was going to be; a life without my mom, but worst of all my mom didn’t know that I would be staying here.
I woke up, today is my first day of school; my freshman year. There are many things that surprised me. I can’t believe how some students are disrespectful to the teachers or how the girls’ and boys’ attitudes are. Students don’t appreciate the opportunities here; the schools are bigger, there is more technology, more things that help a person be successful. I wish my country were the same.
Time passes, and it’s still hard for me to live here; not because of the country, but because of this experience of living with a stepsister, stepbrother, stepmother, learning new language, dealing with my new “family”, living without the love of my mother and everyday hiding my sadness with a smile is not easy. I’m confused I don’t know what to do. I just want to have this opportunity and be a successful person. I want to go to college, be professional, get a job and bring my mom here.
October 5th is my mom’s birthday. It will be the first time that I’m not going to spend that day with her. My mom is the strongest and most beautiful person that can exist. She taught me every life has a purpose. She taught me to forgive no matter how much a person has done to me. She showed me to fight for my dreams and that nothing is impossible, no matter how hard it can be. She taught me how to get up from a bad fall and also how to cure the scars that have brought me pain.
One day before Christmas, my dad noticed how I would sometimes get depressed and told me that if I wanted to go back to Peru I could. I thought about it, and realized all the chances here in the U.S. that I would miss and decided to stay. I knew I could experience more here; I did not want to go back to Peru and see how corrupt it still is. I began to love it here in the U.S. because of all the opportunities it has given me.
Now, I am a Senior in High School with High Honors and student of the month awards.
I am part of the National Honor Society and I am really involved with lots of activities in school. The work I get is sometimes really hard but I try my best to do it right. I made my decision to stay here because I want to go to college to major in Psychology and make my parents proud of me. I know I have many opportunities and I am not going to waste them. Now that I notice all my accomplishments, I feel amazing. I never knew how strong I was, until being strong was my only option in this competitive world.
Born in Ukraine as Angelika Kucherenko, I have faced many challenges that looking back on, have only made me stronger. I turned obstacles into opportunities and have flourished throughout my years in the United States. Jonathan Anthony Burkett states in his book, Neglected But Undefeated, “You know my name, not my story. You’ve heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through.” Some people don’t even know my name, who I am, or what I have been through.
I lived with my Mama in an abandoned yellow apartment. Food was very scarce, bread and water if we were lucky enough. There were days when we didn’t even eat. My home was one room with two beds covered in filthy donation blankets, a dresser and a yellow bathtub where we took our baths once every few weeks.
Mama was a strong woman who only had her child’s best interest in mind. I was a small child in need of a mother’s touch, but my Mama was forced to give me up. In the courtroom, I banged on the desk and curled up into a ball on the cold hard floor. No one was taking me! Mucus ran down my chin as I grasped onto Mama’s shirt. My eyes were red and hurt from crying. That’s when my Mama looked me in the eye. It felt like the world stopped spinning. Everything was going in slow motion. All I heard was her telling me, in a calm voice, “Let go.” They had to pry my slippery, cold fingers from her. How can a mother tell her own daughter to leave, to let go? That was the last time I saw her.
However, I did as I was told, and began my life without a family. It was rough, being only 6 years old and having so much responsibility, not only for my life, but also for my eighteen month old sister Rita’s life as well. Having another person’s life in your hands was what I considered normal. Despite not having a family for most of my life, a shooting star granted me a wish, to be a part of this thing people called family. Two people, who sacrificed their hearts to two strangers traveled halfway around the world in search of children, in search of a family.
Looking back, my life had been about mere survival. Until the people who I now call mom and dad took that away from me. They took my pain and my responsibility away, allowing me to be a child. However, I never really felt like a child. I was forced to grow up at a young age, to start a life anew.
I have transformed past obstacles into opportunities here in the United States. Not knowing a word of English at the age of nine, I started school at the end of third grade. However, never have I looked at my circumstances as an excuse or plea for attention, only as a way to improve, striving for excellence in all that I do. Not through complaining, but through persistence and determination to meet my simple goal of success.
Currently, I am taking a Russian 101 class at Trinity College and next semester I will be taking the Russian 102 class. Continuously challenging myself, I have been active in scholarly activities such as National Junior Honor Society, National Honor Society and being a class representative. I have overcome my learning impediments and persist every day. However, it’s not all rainbows, the English language is a tedious one, and I still struggle with grammar.
Half of my life, I have spent being held hostage from learning, and now, when given the opportunity, I take advantage of it striving for the “American Dream”. Every opportunity that has been offered to me, has been earned through my hard work and dedication. Obstacles are opportunities to be reckoned with.
My eyes snap open. Light streams through the forest-green curtains. I look around, desperately trying to figure out where I am. Whose house is this? Whose pictures and books line these shelves? More importantly, where is my sister? I need to find my mother. I get down from the raised bed and pad across the carpet to the open door, looking for my mother. I am halfway out the door before I remember. This is my Aunt’s house. My mother is not here.
The beginning of my life was filled with instability, marked by movement and ups and downs. My mother has been a drug addict for as long as I have been alive, so my early life was spent moving from house to house and town to town, wherever she could find somewhere to stay. I moved with her, sometimes, and other times I stayed with family who would take me in, but only temporarily. I was always changing schools, usually abruptly and in the middle of the year, and I was unable to keep friends. The constant movement prevented me from having a normal childhood.
When I was ten, DCF took my sister and me from my mother. From there we moved between different foster homes. It was only a couple of weeks, but in my memories this period feels like a year, a long period of packing and unpacking, leaving and arriving. This way of living was even more unstable than when I was with my mother; at least with her, I had the same people, my family, around me. After I was removed from my mother, I cried myself to sleep. I missed her and I did not understand why I could not see her. I felt lost and alone; I did not know any other way of living because I had always been with her.
After several weeks, my Aunt Janice adopted my sister and me. In her house I started to find some stability. Although it did not magically fix my life—I was still a confused and scared child that missed his mother–without my Aunt’s help, I doubt that I would have made it. Although she was not the ideal person for the job, she has always tried her best to raise me to be a good and successful person. Although our relationship is not perfect, I owe my Aunt for giving me a home and a chance at success, but, if it was not for my experience with instability in my early life, I would not be the same person.
Sometimes, when people talk about a difficult or trying experience or moment, they call it “destabilizing.” I know what it is like to live in constant instability. For many years, my entire life was one long, destabilizing moment. I dealt with this instability by reading. When I was younger, my mother used to read books to me. As time went on we would take turns with the books, even though I could not read yet, I interpreted the pictures. My mother always told me: “You were reading before you could read.” Today, when I read I am able to lose myself books, and feel connected to my mother. When I read, things feel stable.
Reading is an escape, but it is also a way forward. Reading shaped my personality, and, by reading, I have developed a vivid imagination and a vast vocabulary. I am better prepared to express myself, and, therefore, to pursue my education. This is important to me because I never want to go through the experience of that instability again, and I believe that education—something no one can take away from you—is an important element of a stable and successful life. Also, I do not want my future family to have to go through what I did; I want to be able to give my children with a stable life. Beyond myself and my family, I am driven to go to college to help fight instability everywhere. I hope that my education will help me to pursue a career and law enforcement that will allow me to help to protect and insure stability for all of my country.
Congratulations to all of the winners!