Toledo 7th Grader Writes Book about his Life as a Refugee

The U.S. is often referred to as the land of opportunity, but often the freedoms and opportunities we have here can be taken for granted. It’s easy to become accustomed to the privileges we have in our country. One young boy from Pakistan and his story of making Toledo his new home serve as a good reminder of all our home has to offer.

Tanzeel Ahmad is a soon-to-be seventh grader at Washington Local Schools’ Jefferson Junior High. He loves learning from the amazing instructors at his school. In a recent interview he stated, “The teachers were very nice. It makes the learning much easier if the teacher is nice to you.” 

And it was through the help of his teachers that he has had the opportunity to tell his story to the world. When Tanzeel was in fifth grade, one of his assignments was to write a story using the five senses. Students could write either fiction or nonfiction, but Tanzeel had known for a long time that he wanted to tell his personal life story, and this was the opportunity to get creative.

Finding a new life in America

Tanzeel’s story stood out from some of the other students in his class because he and his family came to Toledo when he was in the third grade as a refugee from Pakistan. At the time of their arrival, he explained that he only knew a few words of English, but with the help of his teachers at Washington Local Schools, he learned the language and has been excelling at school due to his hard work. 

In third grade, Tanzeel was learning his letters, and two years later he had written a book entirely in English. However, when I interviewed Tanzeel, he made sure that I knew that his teachers played a major role in his success with writing his story. In particular, he noted how Mrs. Scott, Ms. Richards, and Ms. Baidel encouraged him and helped him with the writing process. 

The writing process took a few months for Tanzeel, and much of the book was written while attending school online during COVID. Once school started in-person again, Tanzeel continued to edit and revise his story. He stated that the most difficult part of writing his book was the grammar, but Mrs. Scott helped him address grammatical errors and offered suggestions. 

Additionally, he said his older brother, parents, and sixth grade teachers also played a big role in helping him, and he is very grateful for their support. 

“My Story of America”

The book is called “My Story of America,” and it begins in Pakistan. Tanzeel writes how his family’s religious beliefs and Muslim community were not accepted there, and that those practicing their religion in Pakistan were often persecuted. This prompted him and his family to seek refuge in Thailand in 2013. 

After a few years in Thailand, the family learned of other countries accepting refugees. On September 27, 2018 Tanzeel and his family arrived in the U.S. Tanzeel recalls how his mom was crying and smiling when they finally arrived, and he understood that they were tears of relief and happiness. 

While his book shares many of the joys of living in Toledo, Tanzeel told me what he likes most about it is that “you have your religious freedom in every way here, and you can practice your faith in every way here.” He shared that the mosque where his family worships is in Detroit, and even though it is a bit further away, he enjoys spending time with his family in the car on the drive. 

Setting his sight on the future

After having written his first book, Tanzeel says he’d like to write more. He’s in the brainstorming part of the writing process currently, and is hoping to someday write children’s books or chapter books. As for “My Story of America,” Tanzeel is trying to find a way to sell copies of his story in order to share his story with others. 

Although he has a few years before he needs to think much about college, he has big dreams to one day become a neurologist. With the hard work he has already shown, it is likely that he’ll achieve whatever he sets his mind to. 

Tanzeel’s work ethic reflects the message he hopes readers will take away from his story. 

“I always want people to know that you should never give up if you’re going through a bad situation,” he says. ”You should always look up to your family, because they really help a lot. And you should look up to your religion. That plays a big part in my story.” 

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