Refugee lives the American dream

Salome Paul and her family fled war-ravaged Uganda when she was eight years old. From as early as she can remember, Salome, her parents and four siblings lived in a refugee camp waiting years for permission to seek refuge in the United States.

When she and her family arrived in Idaho, they had no money or jobs.

Salome Paul
Salome Paul

Fast forward 10 years, and Salome is graduating from Borah High School with exceptional grades and has earned one of the country’s most prestigious full-ride college scholarships.

“I want to learn as much as I can and then return to my country to help them,” Salome said.

Salome’s parents are from Sudan. Her mother was an orphan who didn’t finish school. They moved to Uganda where Salome was born amidst a civil war led by rebels. Civilians were attacked and caught in the crossfire, with many civilians sent to refugee camps. It took years, but the Paul family’s request to leave Africa was granted.

When the Pauls arrived in the United States, they spoke only Acoli, a northern Ugandan tribal language.

“No one knew a single word of English,” Salome said. “There were a lot of things we didn’t know.”

After years of moving from Utah to Idaho and then to several places in the Treasure Valley, the Paul family eventually made Boise their home. Her father is a custodian at Centennial High and her mother is a housekeeper.

“Always being in a new environment forced me to learn faster,” she said.

Salome is a talented student with a long resume of achievement.

  •  She owns a 3.8 grade point average.
  • She is a member of Borah’s student council.
  • She is a National Honor Society officer.
  • She serves in multiple clubs focused on leadership and community service.
  • She is a winner of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Only 1,000 students each year receive a good-through-graduation scholarship to use at any college or university of their choice. Seven other Idahoans earned the award.

“She is a brave kid,” said Pam Atkins, an English literature teacher at Borah. “She’s always been adventurous but it’s been fun watching her become a leader.”

Salome has selected to attend Willamette University near Portland, Ore., where she wants to study women’s and gender issues within a liberal arts major.

“I really had no idea what college was until the ninth grade,” she said. “People at school would talk about it but I didn’t understand. My parents told me to keep going to school and learning but we never said anything about college.”

The Gates application is rigorous. Eight essays are required.

“Her writing is so honest,” Atkins said. “She does things that are so risky, things no one seems interested in, but she still does them because it’s important.”

One essay detailed Salome’s experience hosting a peace rally following the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“No matter what you believe happened in that shooting, I wanted people to know there is still racism in Idaho,” she said.

About 40 people attended to hear invited speakers discuss racism, women’s equality and religion in America.

Another essay focused on Salome’s community service. She produced a book of stories and pictures about Borah students who were born in other countries and have unique life experiences.

Another essay focused on her favorite subject — English, a language she didn’t master until she was a teenager.

“I’m so excited to go to college and use what I learn to help people,” Salome said.

Watch Salome Paul talk about her high school experience on this video.

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