Azza Elrayah is a 39-year-old student at Ivy Tech Community College. She is currently in the respiratory therapy program on track to graduate in May 2023. She has previously worked as a phlebotomist and currently holds a dementia care certificate. She is excited about the prospect of furthering her career in healthcare.
Azza immigrated to the United States from Sudan in 2016. She met and married her husband, himself a Sudanese man who immigrated to America 12 years ago. It has been quite the culture shock for Azza as she acclimates to a brand-new country so different from the one she grew up in. “I lived a very happy life, a very basic life. Our house was three bedrooms, two bathrooms. It was very basic, but we were a very happy family. We are all close to each other. Even now I am here, I call my sisters, my brothers, my mom every day,” Azza said.
In total, Azza has six brothers and four sisters. Her mom stayed at home while her father was part of the military. Her father has had a huge influence in her life. He unfortunately passed away from congestive heart failure shortly after she immigrated to America. Before he passed away, she was his primary caretaker as he got sicker and sicker. Taking care of her father and subsequently losing him stirred a passion in Azza to pursue respiratory therapy. Respiratory issues plagued her father and many of her family members had asthma, so she wanted to learn how the lungs affect the body and how to prevent issues before they arise.
Besides Azza’s schoolwork, she has two children to take care of. She has a four-year-old daughter, and she recently just gave birth to another daughter. Before Azza joined the Persistence Pays Off program, she was starting to feel that it was best for her to drop out. “I was pregnant, and I was really worried how I was going to manage. I knew I had to stop working, I knew I had to put my daughter in daycare to have some time to study. And I knew we would be limited in the budget because my husband was the only one to bring money into the home,” Azza explained.
Azza went to go speak with the staff at the TRIO office about her plan. The TRIO office is set up with services specifically designed to help students who come from low-income families or students whose parents did not graduate from college. In other words, it is an office set up with supports for students who are navigating the challenges of college life without the typical supports in place to enable success in college completion. It is a way of leveling the playing field to allow students with less equivalent access to vital resources needed to complete their degree and find success. The TRIO coordinator at Ivy Tech Community College, ended up referring her to the Persistence Pays Off (PPO) program. Because of this program, Azza was able to get the support she needed to continue her studies.
Azza was assigned a case manager from Lutheran Social Services through the PPO program who helped her with a variety of matters to stabilize her life and her finances. Since Azza was no longer working, the family had to rely on her husband’s income solely. Her case manager taught Azza how to budget with one income, save money, manage her time better, and helped connect her with other resources. Azza was also able to get the funding for school supplies and some funding for her oldest daughter’s daycare. Thanks to her case manger’s help and Azza’s work ethic, Azza received the second highest grades in her class for the fall semester.
Azza is looking forward to her future career in healthcare and watching her family grow. When she graduates, she wants to get some work experience and save money before she eventually pursues a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. Her ultimate career aspirations would be to work at Parkview or the Mayo Clinic. We are so excited for Azza to continue to grow in the healthcare field and touch so many lives.