Monroe High senior fled Iraq, now dreams of being an architect

MONROE — Tiba Ahmed dreams of creating something beautiful.

The 19-year-old wants to be an architect. That dream formed when she was a child living in Iraq.

Her family’s home was destroyed. Her school was bombed.

The more destruction she saw, the more she wanted to balance it with creation.

Years later, in Istanbul, her love for architecture deepened. She visited a grand building that had served as a Christian church and as a mosque over the years. People of all faiths walked in to admire the building. It struck her that no one cared who you were or where you came from or what god you prayed to. They were there for the beauty of the place.

“So the Christians and Muslims meet inside, together, and there is no racism and no hate and everyone can be together,” she said. “I hope I build something that brings the people together.”

Ahmed’s family fled Iraq when she was about 12 years old and spent four years as refugees in Turkey, waiting for permission to come to the U.S.

She now is a senior at Monroe High School. Her class schedule includes physics, pre-calculus, English and a SAT prep course. She tried taking the SAT a few years ago and did poorly because she couldn’t speak English. She didn’t start learning the language until 2013.

Ahmed lives with her parents and three younger siblings. Her father works at an auto body shop. In Iraq, he was a miller, grinding grain. Her family is Sunni, and her father was told not to sell flour to Shiite Muslims, the other major denomination of Islam. He refused. Everyone needs to eat, he said.

“The war happened and the conflict happened inside of the mill when we were there,” Ahmed said.

Her father was told his wife and children would be killed. They fled to Turkey.

“It was a safer place, but it was hard for all the refugees,” Ahmed said. “We are just waiting. We don’t know what is the future, we don’t know if we are going to get the good life. Most of the people I know, they still are waiting.”

Her dad had set aside money to help them get by, but most of the refugees struggled to survive. Parents couldn’t work and kids couldn’t go to school. Tiba studied as much as she could at home. She learned to speak Turkish, though she can’t write or read it. Her first language is Arabic. She often drew pictures inspired by Turkish architecture.

The years in Turkey weren’t the first disruption to Tiba’s education. When she was 11, the school she attended in Iraq was destroyed by a bomb. No one was killed in the blast, she said. Students were prepared for explosions and gunfire.

“It was normal,” she said. “We go to school and there are men with guns, but we study and we think it is normal. But it is so hard. Where I was in Iraq, you go someplace and you don’t know if you will make it home.”

Now Tiba is working hard to catch up on credits. She’s taken online courses and stayed after school. She applied to the University of Washington and plans to apply to other schools. She refuses to put her life on hold because of her past.

“I want to tell everybody that everyone should be in the best place,” she said. “I am not choosing to be a refugee. That is something life chose for me and my friends.”

She’s heard people say Muslims are terrorists. It makes her sad, but a teacher encouraged her to try and change their minds. She speaks in front of history classes. She tries to give a voice to refugees. Four others go to school with her and they’ve become good friends.

Art and history are Ahmed’s favorite classes. Art is her passion and history is where she gets to share her culture.

“I explain to them that when (refugees) come here, it is not terrorism. They come to study, to live a better life,” she said. “There are good people and there are bad people.”

Ahmed has an easy smile and dark eyes full of hope. She shares her dream of becoming an architect with whomever will listen. She wants people to understand.

“I come here to make something beautiful,” she said. “I want to tell them you can do this. Whoever you are, wherever you are, you can do it because you want it. The hardest things can make something beautiful in the end.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

Talk to us

More in Local News

The Washington National Guard arrived Friday at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett to help with a surge of COVID-19 cases at the hospital. (Providence) 20220121
State offers free home tests; National Guard arrives in Everett

Supply is limited at a new online portal, but Washingtonians can now order five free rapid COVID tests.

Cassandra Lopez-Shaw
Snohomish County judge accused of ‘needlessly’ exposing staff to COVID

Adam Cornell argues the incident reinforces a need to suspend jury trials, as omicron wreaks havoc.

A rendering of the Compass Health Broadway Campus Redevelopment looks southwest at the building. The facility is planned for 82,000 square feet with a behavioral health clinic with a 16-bed inpatient center and a 16-bed crisis triage center. (Ankrom Moisan Architects)
Demolition eyed in spring for Compass Health Broadway campus

The Everett-based behavioral health care provider wants to replace the 1920-built Bailey Center with a modern facility.

A car drives by flowers placed at a memorial for two pedestrians killed at the corner of 204th Street NE and Highway 9 on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$500K bail for driver accused of killing 2 Arlington pedestrians

Elliott Bagley, 28, told an officer he’d had a couple beers before the crash Thursday, according to police.

Ballots sent for special election on public schools’ funding

Levies to pay for staff, programs, computers and capital projects are on the Feb. 8 ballot across Snohomish County.

Houses along 88th Drive SE visible from the utility access road slated to become the Powerline Trail on Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022 in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Neighbors hold out on plan for new Lake Stevens trail

The city wants to build the Powerline Trail from 20th Street SE to Eighth Street SE. But homeowners have some concerns.

A car drives by Everett Station where Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin's proposal for its ARPA funds includes funding a child care center at station. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald) 20211118
Billionaire Bezos wants to bring free preschool to Everett

The Amazon founder’s program would be housed at Everett Station. Admission would be determined by lottery.

Connie L. Bigelow at her store Miniatures & More in Edmonds on Tuesday. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Woman who lit her own Edmonds doll store on fire gets house arrest

Connie Bigelow, 54, was sentenced Friday in federal court for lighting her business on fire to collect insurance money.

People across Snohomish County share their thoughts on two years of life during the pandemic. 20220123
Anxious, weary, hopeful: How we’re coping with COVID

The pandemic has taken a toll in Snohomish County, where the first U.S. case was confirmed. Here’s a time capsule of life in 2022.

Most Read