UT sophomore honored with iACT Hope Award for work with refugees

Rajya Atluri

While volunteering with refugees, Mehraz Rahman witnessed a young boy crying because he thought all Americans were bad from his previous experiences in Iraq. Now, with help from Rahman and other volunteers, he experiences the opposite.

Rahman, a Plan II and marketing sophomore, said this was one of the many eye-opening experiences she’s had while volunteering with Interfaith Action of Central Texas for Refugees. 

On Tuesday, Rahman will be honored with the iACT Hope Award for her work with refugees. Other honorees at the event, which will focus on “Celebrating a Place of Refuge,” include Austin ISD and the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

“We did a lot of things like taking them on walks to the museums and taking them on field trips and taking them to schools,” Rahman said. “We really helped immerse them in the culture so they would have a much easier time adjusting to their new life which they were kind of thrown into.”

The iACT for Refugees program teaches English as a second language and cultural skills to refugees. Rahman has been volunteering with iACT since middle school and plans to attend law school with the hope of practicing immigration law.

Rahman said sometimes it feels like people she is working with aren’t making any progress despite continued efforts to teach them. Rahman said this honor showed her she did in fact make an impact in some way. Not only has Rahman made an impact on refugees, but they have also changed her own outlook.

“I think (working with refugees) helps me to feel a lot more thankful for things that I have and for being born into privilege,” Rahman said. “It’s really helped me see that that’s a reality for a lot of people, and I think that we see all of these Facebook videos and stuff, and for most people, that’s kind of where it ends.”

Executive director Simone Talma Flowers said she first noticed Rahman’s level of organizational and leadership skills during a iACT Thanksgiving event one year.

“She has just been remarkable sharing her gifts and talents with us throughout the years, and why we chose her is because of her commitment to us, commitment to working with refugees and commitment to giving back,” Flowers said. “She is the future, and we wanted to honor young people who are giving of themselves, and we wanted to lift them up.”