When Ola was little and living in Sudan, her father left for Saudi Arabia. Without him, her family was left to struggle with numerous difficulties arising from a cruel and ruthless government. Her older brother was wrongly arrested and jailed for participating in an anti-government protest. After that, her brother and mother became political targets and were periodically taken away for questioning. That left 12-year-old Ola to care for her little sister. She lived with constant uncertainty and fear, and at times she and her sister had to go into hiding.
In her senior year of high school, her father returned to Sudan. He became very sick, and Ola sacrificed time (and school) for him. Instead of being grateful for this help, he later returned to Saudi Arabia and married another woman.
In the face of all these adversities, Ola graduated high school and started college. She was happy, and had made her mother proud. She focused on her future and participated fully in university life.
Then a new threat emerged from her father’s family. They tried to force her mother to agree that her sister and she should follow tradition and undergo circumcision. Her mother refused, and became determined to move away from Africa and finally find true freedom.
Since arriving in the United States, Ola’s life has changed dramatically. Unable to afford tuition at community college, she enrolled in high school to improve her English. The Dream Project was crucial to her success: a mentor guided her through the college application process, and she found a powerful support network among other Dream Project students who had overcome adversity and obstacles in their own lives and in their pursuit of higher education. As Ola recalls, they gave each other the strength and hope to strive to reach their dreams.
Ola was able to move forward with dignity. She enrolled in a four-year university and proudly focused on her academic life. It was a dream she had for herself, but she also want to set an example for her brother and sister. As Ola sees it, her past is not a dark story. It is an engine that drives her—and inspires others—to shoot for the stars.