Wida Amir came to SAYA! after September 11th to work on a peace and unity initiative, and in the years since, she has helped thousands of South Asian young people face difficult cultural challenges in order to realize and seize the opportunities available to them as Americans.
Born and raised in Afghanistan, Wida fled the country with her mother in 1989, eventually settling in Germany. She learned early on the difficulties that immigrant children face, encountering an unsympathetic and harsh learning environment with no support for integrating foreign students. At 16, she moved to San Diego, CA where she faced similar challenges and ridicule for her language, manners, and dress.
In her senior year of college, Wida came to realize the opportunities she had missed as a disconnected immigrant. Though she had found a few inspirational teachers who supported her and encouraged her to strive for the best, her struggle with acclimating to a daunting new school system and culture had held her back.
Driven by her personal experience, Wida became the mentor she once needed for herself, providing immigrant youth with the support they need to overcome the obstacles before them. She shows young immigrants that their background is an asset to celebrate rather than a problem to disguise and teaches them to embrace their heritage and their new home so that they can succeed in life as who they are.
Wida has worked tirelessly through major obstacles to make SAYA! the organization it is today, helping it grow from serving 150 teens in one center to serving 600 youth of all ages at seven sites. She expanded SAYA!’s College Preparation Program from informal, volunteer-based assistance for a handful of youth to a formal program with a full-time coordinator that serves over 120 youth annually, and helped launch SAYA!’s first elementary and middle school programs.
It takes a person of formidable character and tenacity to endure what Wida has experienced and to channel that energy to foster the hopes and dreams of the next generation. Her passion and perseverance are an inspiration to young people, youth workers, and the community she serves.