Meet Zoukourouf Yacoub!
This month we are celebrating one of our Greenleaf residents, Zoukourouf Yacoub, who has reached a monumental milestone this year of obtaining her US citizenship.
An asylum-seeking refugee from the Central African Republic, and a mother of two children under 3 years old, Zoukourouf had no shortage of obstacles and barriers to passing her citizenship test.
Refugees seeking asylum in the US is a much more specific classification than immigrants, specifically that the environment of the individual was a danger to their life. That is exactly the experience Zoukourouf had.
“Her last experience in a classroom was in her native country where 3 of her classmates had limbs cut off with machetes,” Maggie, Greenleaf service coordinator, shared. “There were many times in the classroom where Zoukourouf would panic. Feelings of danger were creeping back in from those memories. We had to pause and say, ‘It’s okay, it’s just us in here. No one is coming in, nothing is going to happen.”
Upon moving to Denver, she settled in and eventually met her husband with whom she now has two children. Zoukourouf has always had goals and ambition to carve out her own path. She wants to be a nurse, but in addition to raising a family and going through the pandemic resulting in her husband being laid off, she had other hurdles. Firstly was her English capabilities.
“The curriculum we use in our classes could be done in 10 weeks if the student has good English skills,” Maggie explains. The curriculum is one that she created and is based on the 100 civic questions that are a part of the citizenship test.
“Our citizenship teacher comes in each week and covers 10 questions in each session. So after 10 weeks, theoretically you could cover all of the questions. But often it takes longer to get an understanding of the vocabulary used in these questions. In Zoukourouf’s case, we had to take a lot of time just working on basic English grammar before addressing some of the vocabulary in the civic questions.”
Zoukourouf has been attending the citizenship classes regularly since August of 2020. Her consistency and reliability are something that can be seen in everything she does.
“She is so friendly with neighbors and creates a sense of community with others. She shows up to every resident event and helps our staff out often,” Maggie shares.
“When it came to getting her citizenship, we had a mantra, ‘I can do this.’ We had to say it every week because often the task seems so daunting.”
Once you submit your initial paperwork, it could take months to hear back on approval for the formal citizenship test. In the meantime, your goal is not just to make sure your English ability is proficient, but also to have a good understanding of US history, law, and interpersonal cues. A big part of the citizenship test is an interview, and it’s important to know the tone and body language when answering questions. In addition to this, the questions can change depending on the administration, which Zoukourouf experienced.
For an endeavor that spans months, it can wear on your fortitude. It was important for Zoukourouf to remind herself, “I can do this.” Many months were spent just on developing her English. From there, it was learning about the new culture she lived in and its history.
You can really discover a sense of self through challenges like these. You discover your limits and character. You discover just how important your dreams are, how worthy you are.
Come test day, she was exceptionally nervous. All of this time led up to this moment. Would she remember the vocabulary; would she remember the pronunciation and application for the interview?
“When a resident passes their citizenship we give them a gift bag, which includes a red and blue beanie baby,” Maggie explained, “Zoukourouf picked out her beanie baby a week early for luck and to put herself in the right frame of mind – that she would have success.
“After her test was completed, her husband sent me a picture of her citizenship documentation saying ‘she passed!’ I couldn’t have been more proud of her.
“She is such an example that you can do anything if you just don’t give up. There was so much that she had to overcome and so much she battled outside of the curriculum. But she has always wanted to dream big and accomplish things in her life. And she’s done it.”
Receiving her citizenship opens up so many doors for Zoukourouf. It has provided her with an English base that will help her when attending nursing school. It has allowed her countless educational and work opportunities as well as access to state resources she wouldn’t have had previously.
The momentum an achievement like this builds is immeasurable. The sky is the limit for Zoukourouf!