Takwa Saleh: Finding a Greater Purpose Through Service

By Kipp Cozad- YAN- Dearborn

Life can take one down many roads, and in a lot of ways; Takwa Saleh’s path has been long and winding. Takwa is evidence that the Yemeni-American community in Dearborn is maturing and developing. She is also proof that the diaspora is contributing to the wellbeing of America.  Takwa is a recreational therapist at the Walter Reuther State Psychiatric Hospital in Westland, Michigan. There, she assists patients that have either been self-admitted to the hospital or, more frequently, those that are deemed by the State to be not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial. Takwa assesses the patients’ needs and devises goals to overcome the psychological challenges that each patient experiences. These activities for the patient can be athletic driven, such as basketball in order to improve teamwork, or they might be implementing puzzles to challenge concentration. Working in mental health has its day-to-day challenges, but Takwa speaks about the frustrations of treating patients who leave the hospital only to return. “I had a patient that I worked with so hard….We talked and talked, and I felt like I was making progress, and then I watched him leave only to come right back…a lot of them will go to group homes, stop taking their medications, or will start using drugs, and they will come right back,” she shared.

Takwa did not go down this career path by design. She started out in pharmacy school, and while living in Yemen, she got a degree in Pharmacy Technology. When she returned to the States, she quickly realized that this was not the right decision. She transferred from Henry Ford Community College to Eastern Michigan University and shifted to a degree in recreational therapy where she could make use of her social skills. “I am the only Yemeni recreational therapist I know,” she stated with a laugh.

Takwa’s story of mobility is certainly one born of the second generation Yemenis. She was raised in America until the ninth grade; then her father retired and decided to return to Yemen with Takwa and her little brother. “I thought I was going back for a summer vacation and ended up there for years! I went from learning everything in English to learning everything in Arabic.” In so many ways, this is the reverse story of so many Yemenis in America. “I would sit in class and cry, and when the teacher asked what was wrong, I would say, ‘I am not from here,’” she recalled. The time in Taiz, Yemen, taught her many things. “I appreciate things more now.” She said. If it wasn’t for her mom, who made her study after school, she would not have been successful in Yemen.

When she came back to the US following college, she felt that she was behind the other students. All of her friends here already had jobs. She quickly went back to school to change careers. She worked in the financial aid department at Henry Ford College and learned the processes of paying for college. “Many of the international students didn’t know where to start. They didn’t know how to apply for admission.” She would help out incoming international students. Despite moving on and starting a new career, Takwa still aids international students who apply at Henry Ford.

Takwa is also committed to the Yemeni-American community. She has mentored students and continues to advocate for Yemeni-American girls going to college. She sees a positive shift in the number of Yemeni-American girls attending college compared to just a couple of decades earlier. “Back when I was in middle school, many of the girls would get married. Many would go back to Yemen. It was even the same for the guys, too. A lot of them did not get their education. But I know a lot of the girls who got married young and had kids who are now going to college. A lot of them are nurses or teachers,” she shared. One big difference she sees today is that many of the Yemeni-American parents are educated now, and that was not the case before. Takwa pushes the girls that come from Yemen: “Here, you have the opportunity.”

Takwa has a dream of opening a mental health clinic in Yemen one day. With the current conflict, there is going to be a great need for such pioneers in Yemen. The path has always been winding for Takwa, and it is certain that it will lead to success. Born in America but with deep roots in Yemen, Takwa Saleh is pointing the way forward for the next generation of Yemeni-Americans with compassion and initiative.