This Syrian Refugee Is Learning to Code… and Writing a New Story for Herself

Heve’s eyes scan the computer screen as her IT instructor types out code. Her teacher, Allen, is creating a simple computer animation on his laptop—a ball bouncing from one side of the screen to the other.

This isn’t part of the curriculum at WorkWell, our education space where young women and men come to learn new, high-demand skills, collaborate, receive coaching, and gain access to the global digital marketplace. Allen is simply demonstrating to Heve what animation code looks like, because she is curious.

This is the first time Heve (pronounced “heavy”) is seeing this computer language, yet she understands it immediately. She recognizes commands, even though they’re written in a different computer language than the one she knows.

Heve is 20 years old, and she is discovering for the first time in her life that she’s gifted in computer skills.

When Heve was a little girl, she dreamed of being a doctor. That dream evaporated as soon as she got to high school. She was never more than an average student. She isn’t sure why exactly. She loves to study, and had a great group of friends. But Heve never found a subject that resonated, that made her heart sing.

I ask about those friends she used to walk to school with, wondering where they are today. Heve tells me that each is in a different country now.

They all grew up in the same neighborhood in Syria but war has scattered them across the globe. Heve misses her friends so much. She misses her home with the little courtyard out front. She misses Syrian food shared with relatives. Everything, really.

The war has so profoundly affected Heve’s vision of her homeland that she cannot imagine ever going back.

Heve has lost so much that can’t be restored. But in her time at WorkWell, she has unexpectedly found something beautiful: she’s found a part of herself she didn’t know existed.

“She’s number one in the class,” her teacher Allen says. We sit together in Heve’s living room. Allen tells me about his top student while Heve smiles and blushes.

This once-average student is completely in her element. She finally found the subject that makes her heart sing. Classroom assignments aren’t enough of a challenge for her, so she asks to learn harder skills between classes. And in class she helps the students who sit closest to her understand the lessons.

“She help me a lot,” Allen explains.

Not even the pressure of exams can dim Heve’s enthusiasm. While most of the class used the entire two-hour window to complete a recent Excel exam, Heve finished in 20 minutes. And she did great, in case you’re wondering.

“I never knew that I was good at math.”

Somehow, Heve also didn’t know she is great with numbers and patterns—not until this course. I ask how much she studies after class and her answer surprises me: she doesn’t study after class at all. She doesn’t need to. She remembers everything she hears in class.

“Heve, what do you want your life to look like in 10 years?”

Heve’s answer confirms our whole conversation.

“I want to be working with computers. That’s all I want.”

During her time at WorkWell, Heve has found the admiration of her husband, the gratitude of her classmates, and the joy of knowing what makes her heart sing.

She has gained what can’t be taken by war. And you helped to make it happen.

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