She is young, ambitious, jovial and filled with dreams and positive energy. Meet Selma Tebbal, 28, a preschool teacher at the New Arrivals Institute in Greensboro. Selma moved to NC in 2018 from Algeria where she and her husband Salim, 33, were elementary and high school teachers. They decided to move after winning a lottery to immigrate, in 2016.
Taking the chance for a better life
After endless discussions, and weighing the pros and cons, they felt that it was a sign from Allah, and that He was deciding the path for their young family to make a better future for themselves in a foreign land. Selma and Salim moved to Greensboro with their eight-month-old daughter Sidra in 2018.
“I was really hesitant to move because I thought people in the US did not like Muslims. I feared discrimination. It was not an easy decision to leave the country and the close-knit community you grew up in, to make a life all by ourselves in a foreign land so far from home,” says Selma.
“Since we came through the lottery system, we did not have any organisation to help us when we moved here. Salim’s friend helped rent a house. So, from the first month itself we were on our own to pay rent, utilities, run a house and look for a job.
“With a young baby, and no help, the initial months were not easy. There was a huge culture shift from where I grew up. I couldn’t find many Muslim women who wore headscarves in the US, and I felt rather isolated for nearly one and a half years.
Luckily for Selma, a Sudanese family moved to the neighbourhood and she met the first woman with a headscarf, Faisa. "We became friends and Faisa told me about the New Arrivals Institute and how it helped her in the initial years. I took the address from her and visited the institute. The rest is history,” she smiled.
Selma found her community at NAI. She did not feel isolated after she met fellow immigrants and Muslim women at the institute and she calls NAI her family. Diligently attending English classes, she learnt how to communicate with people, and that helped her gain confidence.
Selma speaks very highly of Lynn Thompson, the Community Engagement Director, who saw the potential in her and guided, encouraged and helped her immensely over the years.
“NAI helped me a lot,” says Selma. “I learnt how to speak American English and they helped me get my papers evaluated, and also paid for the service. I was able to take up courses in GTCC and they guided me in that direction while sponsoring my interpreter certification, too.
“They were always on my back (laughs) and I am very grateful to the people. Especially Ms Lynn (Thompson). She suggested I work as a substitute teacher for a while, and I found it fun to work with kids. She was very encouraging, confirming that I was good with children. That is when I decided to study Early Childhood Education and found a full-time job for a month.”
However, with a young second daughter, Sidra, she was unable to continue beyond a month. She didn’t lose hope, instead reaching out to the NAI where Lynn offered her the chance to join the Institute and gain experience of working with younger children with the added advantage of shorter work hours.
“I enjoy working here because these are immigrant children and there are many children who speak Arabic but not English. So, for them, it becomes easier to follow me when I explain how things work here in the classroom.”
Selma speaks Arabic, French, and Berber, and wishes to take on further studies in the field of medicine, where her ability to communicate in multiple languages will be of great help.
“I want to take up Nursing and Dental Hygiene courses and eventually my dream is to start my own business. I want to use the knowledge and training I gain here to start something in Algeria that can help my people,” she smiles.
Right now, Salim who works as a delivery boy with Doordash and Amazon, and the two are concentrating on getting the best for their beautiful daughters. Their goal is to develop themselves further so they can lead a better life.
“America is the land for realising your dreams and Salim wants to study Technology or Supply Chain Management. We both want to use this opportunity given to us. We can do what we want, and be what we want in this country, as long as we do not bend rules and live responsibly,” says Selma.
The young couple overcame the initial hurdles of language, made cultural and societal adjustments, and have worked hard to get qualifications that have made them positive contributors to American society. We wish the young family luck for reaching all their goals and fulfilling their American dream.