Triumph Over Tragedy: Corps Success Story

Raghda Raphael
February 21, 2013

Raghda Raphael is one of The Corps Network 2013 Corpsmembers of the Year. Her story is one of triumph over tragedy, with a huge boost from her Corps experience. This is her story in her own words, modified from the speech she gave at the 2013 Corps Network Conference.

I was born on December 5th, 1988 in Baghdad, Iraq. As a child, I received good grades in school, had many friends, and lived happily with my family.

But things changed following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the insurgents took power. Iraq became a very dangerous place to be. My uncle was kidnapped and assassinated, my friends and I were shot at and my family lived in constant fear. Due to the incidents with my family, I was unable to pass my high school exit exam and was unsure if I could ever get back on track.

Iraq was no longer a safe place for me and my family. So, we made the life changing decision to immigrate to America in 2010.

I arrived in San Diego, California with the dream of having a better life. But I was scared because I did not know how to adjust to my new life, make new friends and find a job with the little English that I had learned in Iraq.

Then I heard of the Urban Corps of San Diego (UCSD) from my brother, and I was so excited about the opportunity to work and learn.

In the Urban Corps

When I first started as a Corpsmember, I felt overwhelmed. I did not speak any English. But the teachers at Urban Corps patiently helped me to practice my English skills every day, and I was surprised at how quickly I was able to learn. My English became so good that I was asked to tutor and translate for other Arabic speaking Corpsmembers.

At UCSD, I worked at the San Diego Recycling Department. In that job I gained new skills in customer service and developed a new found love for environmental conservation. I realized how important it is to conserve our natural resources, and I have tried to pass that value along to my family--and we are now all avid recyclers.

When my time at UCSD ended, I wasn't ready to stop being involved. I became a Corpsmember Ambassador and started representing Urban Corps at community events. This was the perfect job for me because I was-- and still am -- incredibly greatful for all that I learned athe Urban Corps, and this was an opportunity to share my experience with others as an Ambassador.

"Urban Corps helped me realize my potential, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed in a new country. Without the Corps I would not be where I am today."

Big Dreams

I graduated from Urban Corps in November, and I have since been promoted to manager at my current job at restaurant, which helps pay the bills.

But I have bigger dreams. I have started enrolling in community college with the help of my AmeriCorps Education Award (all the while planning my upcoming wedding!).

My future plans include obtaining a Master’s degree and then becoming a math teacher, so that one day maybe I can help someone the way the staff of Urban Corps helped me.

My teacher in Iraq used to tell me, "you are so great at math -- you should be a math teacher!"  And, to my surprise, my Urban Corps teachers told me the same thing.  I really enjoyed the time I spent working with other students as a tutor and mentor, and I realized that I wanted to work with other young people -- especially women -- and encourage them to become mentors and teachers themselves.

I have recently learned that many young people are not meeting appropriate math proficiencies, and that such deficiencies will have a big effect on their future career opportunities. As a teacher and mentor, I hope to one day be a part of the solution to this problem and make math an interesting -- and even fun! -- experience for those that struggle with it.

Urban Corps helped me realize my potential, and gave me the tools I needed to succeed in a new country. Without the Corps I would not be where I am today. I am so grateful for the opportunity, and for all the people that have made a difference in my life. I look forward to the day when I can do the same for another young person.