Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ahmad Aljanabi: Overcoming carnage, succeeding at Grossmont College

Ahmad Aljanabi
Of all the bombings, rocket fire and kidnappings that Ahmad Aljanabi experienced while growing up in Baghdad, one incident will forever be etched in his memory.

“I was sleeping upstairs and I heard heavy gunfire coming from our neighbor’s house,” Aljanabi said. “My older brother suddenly grabbed me and took me to the back of our house with the rest of our family. I remember how my body was shaking and I could not say a word. I remember the fear in my mother’s eyes while she was saying prayers. After about 20 minutes, no more gunshots were heard. We could only hear the crying from our neighbor’s house. Later, we found out that a militia had killed our neighbor and his oldest son.”

Some 12 years after that deadly encounter, Aljanabi, now 24, is thriving at Grossmont College and has been accepted to San Diego State University, where he will transfer this coming fall as a public health major.

Aljanabi credits Grossmont College for his success.

“I’ve had nothing but a great experience here,” he said. “I’ve had a wonderful relationship with every professor I’ve had. All of them have always been willing to help whenever I might need it. They think about their students first.”

Aljanabi’s achievements led the Foundation for Grossmont & Cuyamaca Community Colleges to award him at Lee Roper Memorial Scholarship, which is named after one of Grossmont College’s first instructors. Aljanabi was among the 132 students honored during a recent gala at Grossmont College for their academic accomplishments.

“Ahmad is self motivated and willing to go above and beyond to learn and to apply his learning to his everyday life,” said Hossna Sadat, a counselor at Grossmont College. “He is supportive to others and works well in teams. Ahmad is a stellar student and has truly embraced community college. He is an advocate for social justice and encourages refugee and immigrant communities to also thrive and succeed. For this reason, he also carries a strong appreciation for diversity and equity.”

Aljanabi’s journey to Grossmont College was set into motion after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“One day you’re living a normal life. My dad owned a factory. He had a good job,” Aljanabi said. “The next day, war breaks out and everything you had is gone.”

Aljanabi’s family ultimately fled to Syria, hiring a driver and making their way through countless checkpoints en route to Damascus. Surviving on savings, they lived in Syria for five years before being cleared to move to the United States.

The odyssey continued here, with the family first going to Georgia. “It was hard,” Aljanabi said. “I could not communicate with people. The only words I knew were ‘hi’ and ‘thank you.’ But I kept studying, reading books and listening to music to improve my language. I also bought a dictionary and kept it in my backpack to translate every single word I did not know.”

Before long, Aljanabi could more than hold his own conversing in English. But the family, looking for better employment opportunities, moved to Maine and then Michigan, before arthritis suffered by Aljanabi’s mom led the family to come to California.

Aljanabi graduates with two associate degrees from Grossmont College this spring. His goal is to earn a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics, then work as an orthopedic specialist caring for those with artificial limbs.

His epiphany came while hanging out at La Jolla Cove and watching a young boy with a prosthetic leg quickly recover after falling down. “I saw how this device had helped him get back on his feet, both literally and figuratively. I thought, that’s what I want to do. I want to help people get back on their feet.”

Said Sadat: “I have no doubt that Ahmad will make a tremendous impact in the world.”