Heba’s Success Story

By Yasmeen Shuaib

Heba Abdallah is a 32-year-old Egyptian woman and a mother to two young girls, aged four and two. In 2012, she travelled from Egypt to the United States with her oldest daughter to join her husband and currently lives in Astoria.

“As any person traveling to a different country, I was excited,” Heba explains. Her hope was for a better future, but after coming to the USA, she felt depressed and isolated. She didn't know English well and so she wasn't able to communicate with the outer world. What's more, she was fearful of speaking to her American neighbors, afraid that she would be treated badly because she is Muslim and wears a hijab.

As a result, Heba was dependent on her husband for almost everything and spent her first four years mostly at home, taking care of her children, cleaning and cooking. But she soon realized that she needed to take a positive step forward in her life and make a change. She said to herself: “I feel I have a responsibility. I need to learn English. I don’t always want to depend on my husband for everything and I want to be able to help my daughters in school.”

After Heba had passed her driver’s test, her husband encouraged her to apply for citizenship. “I told him why not?” she says. She applied for her citizenship and began to study for the test, but she found the questions very difficult and she needed help. Her friend Sara introduced her to CIANA (Center for the Integration and Advancement for New Americans) and told her to attend the Civics classes held there.

After attending her first class, however, Heba found herself feeling lost – she had difficulty understanding the questions and she wanted to postpone her citizenship test and give up. But her instructor, Chris, encouraged her to keep going and not to give up and her friend Layla helped her to understand and memorize the questions. When CIANA held a small celebration for the clients who have passed the citizenship test, Heba attended and was surprised that she was given the same certification as the others. “That encouraged me so much to succeed and keep going,” she says.

During her studying and preparation for her citizenship test, many people told Heba that she wouldn't pass it because she didn't speak English very well. But that didn't make her give up. Instead, she saw it as a challenge. And she proved them wrong – she successfully passed her citizenship test and she is now a proud U.S citizen.

“Passing the citizenship made a huge difference in my life!” Heba expresses happily. She learned so much about American history and it also gave her the courage to start communicating with her neighbors. “I found them to be very nice, open and pure-hearted,” she says.

So what's her advice for other new Americans? “Don't be scared," she says. "Take a positive step forward, do the right thing and be a new person.” And what are her dreams now? “I have so many dreams – I want to improve my English skills and go to college.”

Most of all, Heba is extremely grateful for all the support she has received from so many people. “I would like to thank Emira, Mr. Chris, Layla, and my husband, of course. I thank them so much. I don’t know if I will ever find people like them who would support me as much as they did.” 

Our thanks to CIANA for sharing this, as part of an ongoing series of profiles on inspiring immigrant and refugee women.

Mikki Brammer