Her father was killed by kidnappers in Iraq and she would later spend more than three years as refugee in Jordan. But Likaa Mohamad is not looking for sympathy. The Cuyamaca College student is too busy focusing on dedicating her life to helping the less fortunate.
“I love people,” Mohamad says matter-of-factly. “I want to do what I can.”
The straight-A student is certainly on the right track. Mohamad is hoping to graduate in 2018 with at least two associate degrees – in child development and biology – before transferring to San Diego State University and then working at an orphanage her father founded in Nigeria.
“I grew up in a community of people with stature, doctors, scientists, researchers,” Likaa said. “But I never felt comfortable in that kind of setting. I feel more comfortable when I am with people who are living in poverty. I feel like I belong. I feel like I can make a difference.”
Meanwhile, she spends much of her time helping immigrants in her El Cajon neighborhood navigate their new life in America.
“I can’t say enough good things about Likaa,” said Lori Senini, Cuyamaca College’s Health Services supervisor, who recently hired Mohamad as a part-time employee at the Health & Wellness Center. “She is so kind and so compassionate and she is such a joy to work with. She is an excellent role model for the campus community.”
It’s been an often-difficult journey to get here. Born and raised near the ancient city of Ur in Iraq, Mohammad fled to Jordan with her husband and four young daughters after the slaying of her father, a medical researcher who was kidnapped in the chaos of sectarian violence following the U.S. invasion of that country. Unable to work while living in the Jordanian capital of Amman because of her refugee status, Mohammad and her family survived thanks to a stipend from the United Nations and donations from social activists.
“It was horrible, it was horrible for my children,” said Mohamad. “My children were constantly being picked on. It was very difficult.”
Their fortunes changed on Nov. 27, 2012, when the family immigrated to the United States. Unsure where to settle, Mohamad ended up in El Cajon’s growing Iraqi community.
“It just happened,” she said. “It was my destiny to be here, and I love it.”
Before long, both Mohamad and her husband, a mechanical engineer in Iraq who now works at a small grocery store in El Cajon, enrolled at Cuyamaca College.
“Many of my neighbors told me what a wonderful place it was, so I came to see it and I loved it,” Mohamad said of the Rancho San Diego campus. “All my teachers in all my classes are so supportive. “It is very beautiful here, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn.”
Faculty, staff and students are just as impressed with Likaa.
“Likaa is one of the most supportive students in my classes,” said Child Development Program Coordinator Kristin Zink. “When someone presents or shares in class, she is warm, enthusiastic, and willing to give positive feedback. If a student has a question or needs further explanation of something in class, then Likaa takes the time to try and answer those questions and help the student find resources. And she does so with warmth and enthusiasm.”