When Hajer Alchalabi was a child, her mother — a new immigrant at the time — took her to a hospital’s emergency room because of a serious illness. While there, Hajer’s mother, panicked, begged nurses to treat her daughter. But before the 8-year-old received care, she remembers a man in the waiting room coming up to them and saying, "Go back to your country, you filthy animals."
The College of Education and Health and Human Services student said that interaction is something no one should experience, but it was also a defining moment in her life. It’s when Hajer knew her calling: To be a public health advocate. “From that day, at such a young age, I knew what my goal was to be in life: To uplift and advocate for the weak and vulnerable.”
Hajer, in her own words
How UM-Dearborn has helped her with her goal “My journey at University of Michigan-Dearborn started in 2016 as a wide-eyed Arab girl who was interested in public health. Fast forward four years later, and I can now say that I am proudly someone who is a public health advocate. Every year — with every class I take and every organization I volunteer with — my mission of education and awareness only grows stronger and more prominent. That’s what makes me a Difference Maker. Attending college has given me the opportunity to change my life and break stigmas that so many people experience everyday. I feel like it is my obligation and duty to make a difference since I have the tools to do so — which is education.”
The importance of the Iraqi American Union “Being an Iraqi American is foundational to my identity. I am very proud of my heritage and my immigrant background. Unfortunately, growing up, I was not able to celebrate my Iraqi-ness due to an absence of like-minded peers around me. This organization has helped me become more comfortable with my cultural identity. In addition to gaining a stronger feeling of pride in my heritage, it also has shown me that there are many non-Iraqi people who care about Iraqi culture and are interested in learning more.
As event coordinator for the Iraqi American Union, I was able to hold events that give back to my community by raising money for a scholarship through hosting two galas that consisted of over 500 people. There were so many people interested in attending that we had to stop selling tickets because we couldn’t accommodate more. That’s how much our community cares. Through the organization, I was also able to share Iraqi traditions with the community by having a fashion show with our traditional clothes or having an Iraqi comedian come to campus and share his stories. I’ve also got to share our traditional dance and music through multiple events on campus. IAU continually uplifts the visions of Iraqis.”
Finding her talent “When I was younger I saw friends who had a talent, whether it be singing, drawing, or writing poems. I would get upset because I never knew what my talent was. Through our phenomenal public health classes at UM-Dearborn, I realized I do have a talent — it is advocacy. I realized I cannot sit back and not take action; I need to address health inequities.
One of my professors once told me: ‘If you wake up with fire in your heart everyday that is just fighting to fix what is going on in the world, then you have found your passion. For four years, I have fueled this fire and fought for my passion. As a Health and Human Services major working in the medical field, every day I discuss and observe stigma based on race, gender, and socioeconomic status and its impact on health. UM-Dearborn has taught me that there is hope and that I can make a difference.”