Iman gets an education in life from Omar.
“Iman knows all the parts of the brain, and I haven’t even taught that lesson yet,” his science teacher told Iman’s mother. Salima replied “Really? But he’s only in sixth grade, how would he know that?” Then Salima remembered that Iman’s Big Brother Omar is a doctor, and a smile spread across her face.
Iman was not always a top student, and had very few places to turn. Because Salima grew up Kansas, they do not have relatives close to home in New York. She is a single mother and works days, evenings and weekends as a schoolteacher, interfaith minister and voice coach, so her free time is limited. “I’m a bit older, and because of my work schedule, I’m always so wiped out that I don’t have the energy to spend playing with Iman.”
Iman remembers, “I wanted to be with someone because I was really lonely. I just wanted a guy to talk and play with.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters match specialist Francy found a young then medical student, who arrived at the introductory meeting wearing a crisp white shirt and tie. He was soft spoken, patient and intelligent. “We bonded on the first day,” Iman says. “We hit it right off!”
Omar is a doctor, and Iman plays the violin, enjoys classical music, and is excited about learning. The pair also shares a love of soccer. Iman and Omar share common interests,” explains Salima. “These commonalities allowed them to relate from the start.”
Some unexpected similarities gave everyone a good laugh. Salima happily remembers the first Halloween that Omar took Iman trick-or-treating. She’d bought Iman a skeleton costume, but he refused to wear it. “But then Omar came to the front door wearing the same skeleton costume—it was a complete coincidence!” That night, Iman collected the most candy he’d ever gotten on any other Halloween.
Omar has taught Iman about persistence—to excel in academics and to reach his potential. He continually encourages Iman to try his hardest, no matter the outcome. “Usually when I’d do something, I would just give up if it wasn’t going my way,” Iman says. “Omar says you should never give up. Like, if I’m playing soccer and I’m losing, I should still play my hardest because I’ll make myself better in the end.”
One afternoon, Omar and Iman began casually reviewing the parts of the human brain. The next time they got together, Omar brought a picture and diagram of the brain. “For a few months, Iman even wanted to be a brain surgeon!” exclaims Salima. “Omar is such an inspiration for him.” Omar has also patiently taught Iman math—multiplying and adding fractions, and turning fractions into decimals. After earning a 92 percent average in school, Iman’s self-confidence has blossomed.
Iman has very high aspirations, but Omar has also taught him to focus. “He sort of explained how hard it may be to have too many aspirations and that I should do what I do best,” Iman says. So he decided to focus on his drawing. “I usually draw a couple lines and see what it turns into.” Of Bolivian descent, Omar has begun to teach Iman Spanish, and the artist-in-training is looking forward to drawing Spanish objects and words. He’s also looking forward to learning how to use paints, and hopes that soon he can teach Omar origami. Recently, he approached his art teacher about starting a special art class, so now every Thursday morning he meets with other kids who have the same curiosity for art.
Salima believes that it’s extremely important for children to develop relationships apart from family members. Iman has something to look forward to, someone to share his thoughts with, and someone who provides him a different perspective. “Omar is such a sensitive and compassionate caring young man, and so patient,” Salima says. “Iman is also a very sensitive guy so Omar is a great buffer for me because he understands Iman. He’ll say to me ‘Iman’s going to be fine.’”
“It’s a phenomenal privilege to be a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters. On my part, it’s so comforting to know my child will be somewhere for four hours having a great time with someone who is making such a positive impact in his life. That’s worth its weight in gold.”
She continues: “They really screen each Big Brother and Big Sister. As a parent, I can feel safe and secure that their relationship is supported by this incredible organization.”
“Since I met Omar,” says Iman, “I have gone places and seen things that I didn’t even know existed. I see Omar as my real big brother—I count him as family.”
Friendship and trust—it’s not brain surgery.