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November 8, 2021 Achiever Stories

Achievement Story: Afiya, Senior, North High School

Afiya Bilata NHS
North High School student Afiya (pictured left) is on a mission to leave a positive impact on the communities around her, including the SCCSD community. The high school student was recently elected chair of the District's School Improvement Advisory Committee.

Sioux City, Iowa – There’s a saying that the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members. If that saying is true, it would be difficult to find anyone more passionate about community than Afiya.

A North High School senior, Afiya has lived in many communities during her lifetime. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Afiya moved to Kenya at age seven with her family, before a move to Syracuse, New York. The move was a big adjustment for Afiya in countless ways, including the challenges associated with learning a new language.

“I can speak English and Oromo fluently, and I can speak a bit of Amharic and Arabic. When I came to America, I lost most of my ability to speak as many languages as I used to because I had such a hard time learning English,” says Afiya. “I’ve come to learn that knowing more than one language is a huge boost when trying to navigate this big world.”

After living in New York for several years, Afiya’s parents heard about the Oromo community in Sioux City as well as the area’s work opportunities. Two years ago, their family uprooted again to make Siouxland their new home.

“Moving from such a big state like New York to a small city in Iowa was an experience and a shock for me and my family,” recalls Afiya. “Now that I have lived here for two years, I’ve come to appreciate the smaller things in life. People don’t believe me when I say that I like it better here than New York.”

And, Afiya has embraced her new community.

One of eight children, including five who are students in the Sioux City Community School District, Afiya is involved in HOSA, a program for students interested in pursuing future health science careers. She’s also active in North High School’s multicultural club.

Recently, Afiya was elected as chair of the District’s School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC).

“I felt it was important to get involved in SIAC because I want to be able to give my feedback on matters that will impact me and my younger siblings. I want to make our District better than it already is,” says Afiya.

That begins with ensuring the community that she has learned to love remains a welcome place.

“School has been fun for me, but I’ve always had trouble fitting in because I’ve had a hard time adjusting to new places. I have faced a lot of challenges with my identity and religion. Though I am lucky that I haven’t been bullied, I have had days where kids would make fun of my hijab and even try to pull it off. I’m happy and comfortable now, but that’s a challenge many young Muslim girls face in the US,” adds Afiya.

While Afiya, a future pre-med student, looks forward to making lasting memories her senior year, she also stands poised to make a positive impact on the community around her – just as her community has inspired her.

“My accomplishments in school and life would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the amazing people in my life. My mom and dad are my heroes and have pushed me to get where I am now. The amazing teachers and staff in the Sioux City Community School District have become like my family. I am very thankful for everyone that has helped me.”