Looking at Aminah Orogi now, it would be very hard to tell that she had such a tough life growing up. She has a Coach bag hanging on the end of her bed, trendy clothes in the closet and a smile on her face.
She doesn’t tell new people she meets that even though she lived with him until she was 16, she hasn’t had a full conversation with her dad since she was 10.
She doesn’t tell them that she lived in a van in high school.
She doesn’t tell them that her father, Parviz Orogi, emotionally abused her and her family. That she put a smile on her face every day to protect her younger siblings.
Most of all, she doesn’t tell them how much it still hurts. That her brothers live with her dad, but he doesn’t give her the time of day.
“The worst part is feeling like I lost someone who’s not actually dead. I just push it in the back of my head because if I think about it too much, I break down,” Aminah said, as tears welled up in her eyes.
A senior at Castleton University, Aminah will be graduating in May 2017 with a social work degree, hoping to help people who have gone through similar situations.
Parviz is from Iran. In his country, and within the Muslim faith, it is expected that people, particularly women, will dress and act a certain way. When Aminah and her sister, Maryam, did not follow his standards, they were not met with love and understanding.
“He would taunt us, mock us, make us feel like we were nothing, and this all started at a very young age too, so we became accustomed to his emotional abuse. Aminah and I leaned on each other through all of this. It's hard to explain, but when my dad became totally absent from our lives, we clung onto each other because we realized how valuable we were to each other,” Maryam said.
Now that Aminah is in college, she feels free to be herself. Her father used to mock her outfits, call her ugly and make her fee unwanted.
Nearly 22 and allowed to live her own life, Aminah spends most of her days with her friends, when she is not studying or going to the gym.
Early in high school, Aminah and Maryam’s mother, Susan Hutchins, decided to leave their father. With nowhere to go, they ended up living out of a van for most of the summer.
They woke up in their mother’s van, drove to work with her every day, and spent the day waiting for her to get out. It wasn’t until school started that they had somewhere to spend their days.
“I think that’s when Maryam and I got so close. It was just easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. We coped with everything by just throwing ourselves into sports,” Aminah said.
When her soccer coach, Bruce Mackay, learned of their situation, he spoke to his
wife, and they decided to take them in.
“It was a very easy decision. I’m not sure what their living conditions would have been if they didn’t come to stay with us. They needed help, so I helped them. Pretty simple,” Mackay said.
Though they were offered separate rooms, Aminah and Maryam chose to stay together.
After living with Mackay for nearly two months, Aminah and Maryam were able to move back in with their mom, but stayed close.
“We have a bond that is very strong and can never be broken,” Maryam said.
Aminah wants to help people. She wants to take what she has gone through and pay it forward so she can show that no matter what, things can get better.
She got used to having to put on a brave face for her younger siblings. Many days she woke up to yelling, and brought her siblings into the bathroom to read to them and distract them.
Hutchins is proud of who Aminah is today.
“I am very proud of Aminah attending college. School has not always been easy for Aminah due to various personal reasons,” Hutchins said.
Coming from a small town in Vermont, it was hard to hide her situation from her peers in high school. Now that she is in college, her new friends hardly know of the things that have gone on in her life.
Senior Alex Brownell has been friends with Aminah for nearly a year, and barely knows about her past.
“I know a little bit, but she’s never really gone into great detail. Honestly, I never would guess. She’s always happy. She’s just a goofy-ass girl and I love her,” Brownell said.
Though Parviz has put the family through a lot, Aminah does still have loving feelings for him.
“He was my hero until I was 10. Our family has always been super close. He’s a very charismatic guy, people like him. If I could ask one thing, I would just ask why. I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to know me. That’s not what a parent is supposed to do,” Aminah said.
Through all the sporadic behavior and the unpredictable moods, Aminah has come out on the other side, but not with a few dents to her self-esteem.
“She is absolutely gorgeous and has a caring, smart, and strong-willed personality, but she struggles to love herself sometimes,” Maryam said.
“I would like Aminah to gain self-confidence. With that self-confidence, I would want her to realize that she has many things to offer and she does not have to depend on anybody,” she said.
Aminah has a few words for those going through tough times.
“It will get better. No matter how bad it gets, you can always turn it around. Everything will be okay,” Aminah said.