By Katherine Carmichael
Once a little girl fleeing a war zone. Now a thriving 4th-grade student. Meet Floren, 10, who is making a new life for herself in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“When the class came back from spring break she gave me a hug and smiled broadly and told me she was happy to see me and that she missed me,” Floren’s teacher, Yvette Carmichael said.
However, life wasn’t always so picturesque.
Before moving to Santa Clarita in November 2016, Floren Rouboz lived in Homs, Syria. Living through the intense civil war was a struggle. It was only safe to go outside in the morning. No one dared leaving in the evening or night; it was too dangerous. Despite this, Rouboz was very sheltered from the war, which allowed her to participate in some normal 10-year-old activities like playing and going to school.
Even though her family was able to keep Rouboz sheltered from the war and unaware about the details of the conflict, Rouboz’s aunt would like Americans to be more aware of what is happening in the Middle East. The majority of people she’s met in the U.S. don’t even know where Syria is, let alone any details about the war.
While people are free to hold their own opinions, refugees’ situation would be much better if those opinions were educated.
In Syria, Rouboz loved to play with her friends and family. She played basketball, hide-and-seek and wrote stories with her five best friends from school. Rouboz was very close to her cousins as well, often visiting them over the weekends.
Rouboz also spent her time attending the local school, and doing homework. Starting at 7 a.m. and ending at 1 p.m., Rouboz studied math, science and writing. She also took lots and lots of tests. Thankfully, school was only in session on weekdays in the winter.
Still, the war raged on and Rouboz needed a place to take refuge. So, her family decided to move to the Santa Clarita Valley since some of her relatives have lived here for a very long time. A few of her cousins were even born here.
After Rouboz and her family had legally obtained their green-cards, Santa Clarita was just a plane ride away.
Arrival in the U.S. was not as daunting as Rouboz and her family had anticipated. Rouboz loved the flight and loved meeting new relatives upon landing. She was also surprised with a visit from a cousin she knew in Syria. Her family then headed straight for her uncle’s house in Santa Clarita.
One of the first things Rouboz noticed about the U.S. was how significant holidays are. In Syria, because half of the population is Muslim and the other half is Christian, holidays aren’t stressed, especially not in school.
Now, Rouboz loves celebrating holidays both at home and in her classroom, especially Christmas and Easter. While she is thrilled for all the holidays, Rouboz is looking forward to Halloween the most, barely containing her excitement by the stories her aunt tells about the festivities.
Luckily, both her teacher, Carmichael, and her school, Golden Oak Community School, place importance on celebrating birthdays and holidays in class. For every student’s birthday, Rouboz’s teacher will give the student a giant Pixy Stix and invite their parents to host a miniature party near the end of the day. For holidays, Carmichael teaches concepts through themed activities, such as reading exercises that use historical texts from each holiday or writing assignments that relate to each holiday, and will have small class celebrations for major holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Unfortunately, her first day of school was not a holiday. It was long, tiring and a bit boring. Rouboz didn’t understand much english and had no idea when she would go home. Despite a bad first day, she now loves her school. Going to music class, the science lab, the computer lab and the library are some of her favorite activities.
Rouboz especially loves her new teacher who, works tirelessly to assist her student in every possible way since the school district does not have the additional funding necessary to provide Rouboz with language help.
Carmichael established a thumbs-up/thumbs-down communication system as a way to ensure Rouboz is able to follow along during class lessons. Carmichael also sets aside time to work with her student independently. They will sit alone, working through math problems or reading passages, using a combination of gestures and the assistance of Google Translate to communicate. Before the lesson begins, Carmichael will use the program to tell Rouboz to perform simple tasks, like touching her nose, to see if the translation is accurate, much to Rouboz’s amusement, who always seems to be laughing.
But, she still misses Syria.
Since there were only so many things she could bring to the U.S., Rouboz had to leave behind her toys, books, bike and obviously her house and all the great food in Syria. She misses all these things, but more importantly she misses the people. Rouboz hasn’t been able to play with her friends or see her family members who are still living in Syria. This is only worsened by her family in Santa Clarita having different schedules, making time together very hard to find. She is, however, able to spend time with three of her cousins: Clarissa, Christian and Tony, who have similar after-school schedules.
After a long day of class, Rouboz and her cousins have a lot of playing to catch up on (after they’ve completed their homework, of course). They will either play at Rouboz’s aunt’s house or at the local Community Center, where they also receive homework help. At the Community Center, Rouboz will play with her friend Melissa or with her cousins. At home, the four cousins will usually play hide-and-seek. The girls are the ultimate hide-and-seek champions as they play it more than the boys do, who prefer to play-fight instead, as long as Tony’s health allows him to.
Tony is in the U.S. to receive medical treatment that is unavailable in Syria. Rouboz’s parents did not permit her to be photographed, but the previous link shows a glimpse of her homelife in the photo gallery.
Tony spends a lot of time in the hospital receiving treatment. Christian and Clarissa will usually keep him company during these visits. Because of this, both Christian and Clarissa want to be doctors when they grow up so they can help Tony recover. Rouboz doesn’t visit Tony as often, usually occupying her time drawing, which she has a real passion for (she would much rather be an artist than a doctor when she grows up).
Rouboz draws everything, but she specializes in nature. She draws what’s around her from flowers and trees to a friendly bird or butterfly. Kiera (whose last name is omitted to protect her identity), one of Rouboz’s classmates, also loves art, drawing something in her notebook whenever she has time. No wonder they’re such great friends.
As for the future, Rouboz doesn’t have any wild hopes or dreams. She would like to visit Syria, but she wouldn’t like to move back. She likes living in California and doesn’t want to travel the world. But she does have one wish: like any 10-year-old, she dreams of having her own room.