As a child in Guinea, Hawa Fallah had to sell bananas in the seaside city of Conakry to pay her school fees. When business was bad, she didn’t go to school. The sixteen-year-old says she only got four years of schooling in her country. Her family moved to San Diego nine months ago for something better.
“Here the school is free,” Fallah said. “In our country, it is not free.”
She wants to be a doctor.
Fallah is part of an extraordinary program for newcomers with extraordinary challenges. Her classmates come from Burma, The Gambia, China, Mexico and elsewhere. Many of them can speak three or four languages, but are still learning English. Some are scarred by war or genocide; their schooling may have been scant. But to graduate high school, they must catch up to their classmates in a few short years.
It’s a fact that one teacher reminds them of when they get distracted, ringing a bell to refocus them.
“Don’t waste our time,” said Viraj Ward, chiding her class. “We don’t have a lot of time together.”