By: Rose Bender
Lining up her wooden dolls, Damela Cedelian was only seven and living in Haiti when she play-taught her first lesson. Her passion for teaching burns strong as she prepares to enter Miami Dade College, pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education.
“The biggest thing we can leave behind is an impact on someone’s life, which is why I love the teaching position,” Damela explained. “My goal is not to be the most remembered person in the world, but to impact somebody’s life.”
When Damela was nine she moved to the University States. Entering the third grade, she was anxious and had difficulty understanding English. Other students would tease her for her thick accent and stutter.
“My parents always said, ‘This is America. You have to go to school. It’s all about education.’,” Damela recalled. “I hear them and I listened. I dedicated everything to learning, getting my grades up, and joining social clubs.”
During middle school Damela’s English improved. By High School she was elected Class Vice President. She also discovered a creative passion: poetry.
“My favorite thing is writing. I love to write,” Damela said. Mr. Lane, Damela’s middle school language arts teacher, helped her to improve her reading comprehension and encouraged her to begin writing. Damela has entered several regional poetry competitions and won second and third place. Mr. Lane is not alone on the list of teachers who inspired Damela to pursue her dream.
“They’re all English teacher,” Damela recalled with a laugh. In 10th grade, all Florida students are required to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Damela was still having a difficulty with reading comprehension and would spend extra time studying with her teacher, Dr. Shive. When the test results came back, Damela recalled running to him to show her score: a five, the highest possible score.
“I defeated reading. I overcame that obstacle,” Damela recalled. Teachers who took extra time to help her succeed are Damela’s biggest inspiration. “I will always try to implement the same things that I learned from them.”
Damela also finds inspiration in faith. Raised in a Christian family, Damela never really felt impacted by her religion until she graduated from high school.
“I was very heavily depressed after I graduated. I knew that I didn’t have the money to continue school,” Damela explained. She began to dread the arrival of August and the beginning of School for so many of her peers. “I knew it would be difficult to hear from my classmates who had the opportunity to go [to school] and are posting about it on Facebook.”
One day a neighbor invited her to church where she was met by a group of young people. She recalled how joyful, happy, and genuine they all seemed. As she continued attending church, this group accepted and encouraged her.
“That was the turning point for me. To learn that I can’t give up and that I will make it somehow,” Damela recalled. She began to teach a class at the church each Sunday. “I can’t be a teacher how I want to be yet, but I can work with kids in the ministry and help to implement new programs.”
This was how Damela pursued her dream for sometime. Until one day, she scrolled past something interesting on Facebook, TheDream.US Scholarship. “I was just scrolling down my wall and I saw it,” Damella remembered. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. This cannot be real. This cannot be real! That’s so awesome!’”
Not knowing if she would be accepted or not, Damela knew she had to take the chance and apply. “I didn’t have my laptop, so I typed the essay right on my phone,” she recalled.
A few weeks later she was at a friend’s house when an email with the subject, “The Dream” came to her phone. “My heart started to beat really fast. I thought, Calm down. If it doesn’t happen this time, we will keep pushing,’” Damela said. When she saw the word “congratulations” in the opening lines she began to scream. “It was a life changing moment.”
“I am beyond thankful to the donors and supporters that have given us this opportunity. I feel like they are co-parents in our dream,” Damela said. “We will remember them for the rest of our lives.”
“We Dreamers are almost a family. We feel so connected even though we are worlds apart,” Damela explained. “It was a moment where you thought you were alone and suddenly you realise you’re not. There are people in the same situation. To come together, to turn something negative into something positive, we will be connected for life.”