QuestBridge at Brown: Fariha Kohistani ’20

QuestBridge is a national nonprofit that connects the most talented low-income youth to top colleges and opportunities. QuestBridge has helped low-income students build a better path for success that goes from high school to their first job. Brown has had the opportunity to welcome a community of QuestBridge Scholars to College Hill, and will be featuring their stories.

Meet Fariha Kohistani, from the class of 2020. She is studying Applied Math and Biology (one degree administered from two departments).

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Photography by Naomy Pedroza ’20

Fariha is from Worcester, Massachusetts, and went to South High Community School. She describes the town of Worcester as not only a diverse city, but also a supportive and positive community. But within this community, Fariha says the her close-knit family has had the greatest impact on her development. Fariha is the youngest of three siblings and three very close cousins.

“I have never had a shortness of familial love and for that I will be forever grateful; my family is just like me: loud, passionate, and caring. I get my desire to give back from the hospitality and compassion my mom gave to other people who were in worse conditions than we were. My family never complained, but were always thankful for what we were given and always tried to share what we could.”

Fariha deeply values her family’s presence as they were all separated for most of her childhood. Before Worcester, her family travelled a long and taxing journey from Afghanistan

“I was first raised by my mother and paternal grandfather. My father and brother had to flee Afghanistan before I was born because they were trying to escape the Taliban, who hated the tribe we were from and the fact that my father was an engineer. They wanted to ship him off as cannon fodder in their disgusting war. My mother started our immigration process to come to the US the day right after my father and brother hopped our neighbors’ fence to go only God knew where.”

Fariha was only three years old when she arrived to the United States with only her mother and grandfather. However, growing up in a post 9/11 America was difficult for Fahria and even sometimes ostracizing, especially in the classroom. While she struggled with her identity as an Afghan Muslim girl who had just received refugee status, she saw every obstacle instead as an opportunity to further her growth.

“I didn’t care about the bullies and instead focused on the blessings I had: being in the United States away from the war in Afghanistan, being able to get an education as a girl, being with as many of my family members as possible, and having such a close relationship to my mother and sisters. I remember how excited I was to see snow for the first time. Having awoken first and seeing the snow on the windows and trees outside the apartment, I ran around to each room yelling to my sisters that it was ‘everywhere! In this window and this window and this window…’ For me, it really was the little things that overshadowed the big ones, having left everything behind and having nothing when we moved here.”

***

After a few years of settling into their new home of Worcester, a local newspaper published a story on Fariha and her family’s incredible journey. Then, with the help of the newspaper and Red Cross, they were able to locate Fariha’s father and brother in Germany. Finally, her father and brother were able to reunite with the rest of their family, and join them living in Worcester together.

“I first met my father when I was 5 years old and two years later they finally moved to the United States to live with us. Being so young, I didn’t quite understand the weight of what it meant to meet my father for the first time. Of course I was excited, but I didn’t really grasp how big of a deal it was for my father not only to be reunited with his wife, father, and 2 daughters but also with a daughter he never had the chance to meet. And as can be expected, my father fawned over, adored, and spoiled me and I annoyed the heck out of my brother.”

Fariha entered high school with a complete and loving family, and was then welcomed into an even larger community with caring teachers, staff, and students. Going to a large high school, Fariha talked about how South High faced challenges helping some of its students fall out of the vicious poverty cycle. She explained that a handful of her classmates fell victim to gang violence or early teen pregnancy.  However, her experiences as a refugee and the love and care she received from her local community sparked her passion for helping others. Fariha is thus passionate about community engagement, and hopes to become a doctor.

“Being refugees, my family and I needed a lot of help when we first arrived here and I have never forgotten about the kindness many people showed us. I have always vowed to give back when I can.”

Going into the college application process, QuestBridge helped her find opportunities not possible before and allowed Fariha to build a brighter future for herself, especially by appeasing her anxieties concerning financial limitations. Moreso, she felt supported by the community of QuestBridge scholars. She knew that any school that might accept her would also provide a community of QuestBridge students. The confidence in this community gave Fariha the confidence to know that she can succeed and find support, even at top tier colleges.

By the end of her applications, Fariha narrowed down her choices between Brown and Stanford, choosing Brown because it was the school she really connected to. She was thankful that Questbridge gave her the opportunity to choose a school based on where she truly fit in, and not on her finances. But Fariha explained that she was most drawn to the transparency and passion of the students she met at Brown.

“I am enamored with how critical people are about everything, and I don’t mean in a negative way. I really hate people who are complacent and I have met very few people like that at Brown. The students on this campus are so passionate about everything and are so vocal about their standpoint which is something I really admire. Being around people like that has strengthened my voice even more.”

Using this voice, Fariha feels that she has been able to really pursue her dream in finally giving back to her community.

“I finally have that opportunity [to give back]. I currently am a volunteer for Connect for Health, a nonprofit run out of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, where we connect families in need to resources they can utilize in their own communities to help them get back on their feet. We help people with rent, food, utilities, baby supplies, commodities such as furniture and clothing, and other things along those lines. It feels good to be able to help so many families, especially refugee families who are in the same place I myself have been in.”

With a heart full of gratitude and a mind full of promise, Fariha is poised to do great things at Brown and beyond.  We can’t wait to see what Fariha will accomplish next.

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