Alumni Spotlight: Rasha Roshdy’s Labor of Love
Dr. Rasha Roshdy (’15) was shopping in a Middle Eastern grocery store in El Cajon in the early days of the pandemic when a conversation caught her ear. Two women speaking Arabic — whom she later learned were Syrian refugees — were discussing a notice taped to their apartment door.
“They said they couldn't understand the notice because it was in English and they didn't know what they should do,” said Roshdy, an alumna of San Diego State University’s doctorate in education with a concentration in community college leadership (CCLEAD). “With the pandemic, all the services had gone online and they had no internet access. So they could no longer just walk in and ask somebody for help.”
Roshdy offered to accompany the women home to read and help address the notice. They gratefully accepted — and an idea took root.
“I thought about it and said ‘There is a need. I need to figure out how to help,'” she recalls.
What Roshdy started has become Amna Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that has provided support to 34 or more local refugee families from Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia over the past year plus. The organization is named for her grandmother, who Roshdy remembers as “an advocate for women who helped a lot of families.”
It’s vital work, and increasingly in the spotlight as thousands of refugees who opposed the Taliban arrive in the wake of the U.S withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“They really came here under dire circumstances,” Roshdy said. “For them to become active members of society, it's going to take a lot.”
A change agent
Her experience at SDSU helped her believe in her ability to do so.
“The first class that my cohort took was a leadership course with Dr. Fred McFarlane,” said Roshdy. “He talked about how you have to take initiative to be the change you want to see. I thought, ‘Oh this is what I'm training to be: a change agent, a leader.’ It doesn't start with your title, you can be a leader anywhere. That first course was very inspiring and it made an impact on me.”
For the past year, Roshdy’s desire to make change has resulted in a 40-hour per week unpaid labor of love with her home serving as a de facto warehouse for donated items. Recently, Amna Sanctuary’s supporters donated a storage unit to help her reclaim her living room from the boxes of donations.
“I didn't have a lot of capital to do all this, so it was as grassroots as it gets,” she said.
Her initial push was to help refugees bridge the digital gap. She found donors to provide laptops and a digital literacy curriculum, which she had translated and presented in Arabic and Pashto. As a result, she said, some refugees have been able to enroll in online English courses.
She soon learned many refugee families were living on cash aid that barely covered rent — and things like children’s toys and even hygiene supplies were often scarce. Roshdy spearheaded a toy drive around Christmas that distributed more than 200 toys. In January, she secured a sponsorship with Dr. Bronner's, which donated laundry detergent, cleaning supplies, toothpaste and soap.