Chance to Advance
When Ekhlas Ahmed speaks of life before her arrival to Maine, she remembers a happy childhood in Sudan, filled with simple pleasures like walking to school with friends. But in 2003, when armed rebellion against the government in Darfur resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, the Ahmed family escaped to Cairo. They were later resettled in Maine through Catholic Charities.
When 12-year-old Ahmed first arrived in Portland in April 2005, it was cold and overcast, typical spring weather in Maine. Her mother insisted, “This isn’t the US; we’re part of Canada.” On the first day of school, she got off at the wrong bus stop and was lost for eight hours. When it was time to select which high school she’d attend, her father was advised by a mentor that it would be good for her to be at a school with no Arabic speakers. So he registered her for the newly opened Casco Bay High School.
Those early months were very difficult. Ahmed barely spoke English and was still grieving the loss of her childhood home. Thanks to her hard work and the support of her parents and teachers, she was honored as “the most improved student” in Casco Bay’s first graduating class.
Knowing the profound impact of caring teachers on her own success, Ahmed became passionate about helping other immigrants find their footing in this new culture. After attending Southern Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine, she returned to Casco Bay High School as an Americorps volunteer teaching English while working on her Master’s.
Ekhlas Ahmed, traveling with Westbrook teachers Kelsey Grover and Katya Nash
She then taught English for two years in Westbrook, leaving to found Chance to Advance, a not-for-profit dedicated to uplifting the voices of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. In 2019 she surprised her parents by buying a home for the family in Windham. Knowing how reluctant they were to take on a mortgage, Ahmed later got a real estate license just so that she could explain the American concepts of home ownership to her African friends.
Ahmed travels often–bringing school supplies to Sudan and exploring the Middle East with fellow Westbrook Middle School teachers Kelsey Grover and Katya Nash. At the beginning of this month, she became Director of Community Engagement for the Cultural Alliance of Maine. “I live a very busy and full life,” she says.
UN Refugee Agency Spotlights Ahmed in 2017
Ekhlas Ahmed on the Ellen Degeneres Show in 2017