Hamza Abdulrahman is a young man with a solid perspective on what makes a hero.
A hero is a woman who gathers her intelligence, ferocity and love and focuses it like a laser on making a better life for her children. It is a woman who opens a tiny Sudanese restaurant in Cairo and uses her earnings to feed and clothe her sons and pay their school fees. A woman who lost her husband before their sons turned 10, whose own formal education ended when she turned 12, but who taught her sons “everything we know.” It is a woman who brought those sons to America in search of opportunity and who now works stocking shelves in a New Hampshire Walmart.
Hamza’s hero is his mom, Haboba Koko.
Hamza is a junior at Husson University in Maine, where he studies digital marketing with help from a Charitable Foundation scholarship. A standout athlete at Concord High School, Hamza is also playing basketball for Husson.
His scholarship is from the new Elizabeth I. Bickel Scholarship fund — which was created by a woman whose own family had emigrated to America from eastern Europe, and always found ways of reaching back to help the next waves of immigrants following behind them.
Hamza, his mother and brother were resettled in Concord by the U.S. Department of State. Hamza had assumed he would have to go straight to work when he arrived in the U.S. The concept of public high school was unfamiliar to him.
“We got here, and as soon as I heard that high school was free, I had to take the opportunity to do the best I could,” Hamza said. “My mom didn’t go to school, and she had no opportunities.”
Hamza’s first language is Arabic. He had learned to read some English while attending school in Egypt, but could not speak it. So he entered his freshman year at Concord High School brand-new to the country and speaking no English.
“It was a little hard at first,” he recalls. “Not a lot of people speak Arabic at Concord High.”
He found science classes particularly challenging, with the dual barriers of language and scientific terminology – but after two years, he had graduated from needing any English-language Learners (ELL) classes at all.
Hamza found community in athletics, first track and then basketball and football. He captained both the Concord High football and basketball teams in his senior year.
“Sports helped me to connect with a lot of people, and made my communication skills in English so much better,” he said.
His first summer of high school, Hamza worked at the school full-time as a custodian, then switched to a tutoring job, helping other students. During the height of the pandemic, he was an essential worker — fulfilling online grocery orders at Wal-Mart.
He is the first in his family to go to college, and his younger brother is right in his footsteps.
Hamza still works at Walmart full-time all summer.
“I want to be somebody that my mom is going to be very proud of,” he says.
Hamza dreams of saving up enough money to build a school in Sudan to help children there.
And, he says, “I just want to have a very, very, very good job so that in the future my mother don’t have to worry about working.” So that his hero might, finally, be able to rest.