Mohamad Imran and Gary Locke

Mohamad Imran and Gary Locke

Each year, the Washington State Association of College Trustees celebrates community and technical college students with its Transforming Lives Award, which recognizes current or former students whose lives have been transformed by chasing higher education.

This year, Bellevue College student Mohamad Imran was among the six students statewide to receive the award.

Imran was born in Myanmar and was smuggled out of his home country by a boat at age 12 for his status as a Rohingya Muslim. His parents had sent him on his own to escape the genocide happening to his community in Myanmar. His parents were told the trip would take about a week; in reality, Imran spent about five months on a boat filled with sick, starving, and dying people escaping the same persecution, a release said. 

The boat finally reached Thailand where Imran, who had fallen ill himself, ultimately was made to walk through the jungle to reach Malaysia. Once there, a restaurant owner called authorities on Imran — who couldn't speak the local language — because of his appearance. Once he was arrested, the cuffs dwarfed Imran's now rail-thin wrists, making it easy to slide out of them.

From there, Malaysian authorities arrested Imran and he was detained for about a year. Even with the United Nations working on his behalf to free him, Imran wouldn't be free again until around the time he turned 14.

Once he was able to contact his family again, Imran learned that they had thought he had died and had held a funeral for him.

“They were really happy to hear from me," Imran said in the release.

Eventually, Imran applied to come to the United States and was placed with a foster family on Mercer Island. At Mercer Island High School, Imran pushed himself to not only learn to speak English, but also read and write the language. With his determination and hard work, he graduated from high school in five years.

“It was extremely difficult,” Imran said about his early years in the United States in the release. “I’m really proud of what I have done.”

Imran, now 21, is in his second year at Bellevue College, where he's pursuing an associate degree. Imran said he eventually would like to earn a master’s degree in business administration (he’s considering University of Washington and Seattle University).

Since attending BC, former Washington state governor and BC interim president Gary Locke has helped Imran’s family by bringing one of his brothers to Washington, where he currently lives in Kent with his foster family.

The rest of his family — his parents, two brothers and two sisters — were able to escape Myanmar in 2017 and settle in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

In addition to being a student, Imran holds a part-time job and regularly sends about half his paycheck back to his family. He plans to use the funds from the Transforming Lives Award to help refugees currently in Bangladesh.

In his statement for the Transforming Lives award, Imran wrote: “Through education, my dream is to help the Rohingya people finally have a place to call home because they are dying to be seen.”