Photo by Bill Roa
CLARKSTON, Ga.—Six years ago, Hawa Bello lived in a refugee camp in Chad. Today she is a college freshman enrolled in Georgia State University’s Perimeter Academy on Clarkston Campus.
Bello, 19, is one of 156 students participating in the academy, a student success program that gives students a head start on their college career by attending during the summer and taking advantage of student support resources.
Though she has only been on campus since June, Bello already has become an expert getting around Clarkston Campus. It’s been a busy time for class and projects, she explains, as she maneuvers her wheelchair to the second floor of the library.
“I do a lot of research and group projects here — you’ll find me in the library a lot,” she said.
The Perimeter Academy program, offered at Georgia State’s Perimeter College, allows students such as Bello to stay together as a group as they take their first-year classes and provides them support and academic coaching during their initial year of college. The academy has been available on the Decatur Campus since 2017, but this summer is the first time it has been offered on the Clarkston and Dunwoody campuses.
During their initial year, Clarkston has 29 students in the program, and Dunwoody has 30. At Decatur, where the program began, 97 students are enrolled.
“I like Perimeter Academy because I am getting a head start to see what it’s like to be a college student,” said Bello. “And I’m building strong relationships with other Perimeter Academy students when we meet and work on group work assignments together.”
Bello was familiar with Perimeter College even before she became a student. For the past two summers, she participated in the International Rescue Committee’s “Ready, Set, College,” summer camp program, coordinated by the Center for Community Engagement and held on the Clarkston Campus. The eight-week program helps get high school refugee students from the Clarkston area ready for higher education, with college preparatory classes and exams and time management and financial aid workshops.
Bello doesn’t take her education for granted. She spent 10 years of her life in a refugee camp in Chad, where her schooling was erratic at best, she said. In 2013, she came to Clarkston with her mother and six siblings.
At the time, she was 13 and spoke three languages — French, Arabic and Sango, the native tongue of the Central African Republic, where she was born. She then learned English.
“When we came here, we didn’t know the language, the culture — it was so different,” she said. “But I knew education was important, and it was very important to my mother, who didn’t have an opportunity to go to school,” she said. “Plus, I love to learn new stuff.”
The “middle child” of seven children — all of whom are now in high school and college — Bello knew what she wanted to do with her life: help others.
While in high school, she volunteered at a local doctor’s medical practice, checking in patients and assisting with office work. Her dedication earned her a college scholarship from Dr. Gulshan Harjee, who owns the practice in Decatur.
Bello’s desire to help others stems from her own challenges: At age 3, polio left her legs paralyzed. She was the only one in her family to contract the disease.
“During that time, we had no vaccinations,” she said. “I was lucky, but lot of people suffered terribly from the disease.”
She hopes one day to work as pharmacist. When not in school, she works part time as a licensed pharmacy technician at Global Pharmacy in Clarkston.
“I figured out that my experience after polio has made me passionate about helping others who need medical help … I want to help others overcome their own challenges. I don’t have to walk to make a difference in other people’s lives.”
Find out more about Perimeter Academy.