Parisa Maryam Fakhri grew up in Iran, where she always wanted to be a preschool teacher, but as the oldest child, her parents wanted her to pursue medicine.
When it was time for her to go to college, the Iranian Revolution had shut down the local universities, so Fakhri’s parents said she should study in Europe or the United States.
“It was hard to get a visa to come to America,” Fakhri recalls. “It would have been easier to go to Europe. But Iranian women are some of the strongest women, so even though it was hard, I knew there was more opportunity in the U.S. And in my geography class, they talked about Massachusetts. I liked the name, and I used to dream that one day I would go there.”
People said a visa would be impossible to get. But when the customs officer asked why she wanted one, Fakhri firmly said it was because she wanted to study. Three weeks later she had her visa. She was the only one she knew of who was awarded one. Cousins and friends said that Fakhri, who enjoyed life at home, would not succeed in America. But her parents told her that she could.
And she did.
Fakhri lived with an American family and went to college. She spent long days studying English and immersing herself in American culture. A year and a half later, she met her future husband. Marriage and motherhood led her to pause schooling to take care of her family.
“I wasn’t taking any courses. I was home,” she says, but life slowly drew her toward interacting with more young children and eventually working with them. “I was going to the playground, watching my son play with other children. I would go to the gym and leave my son in the gym’s child care. A neighbor would ask me to take care of their child.”
“The fire that started in my heart in Iran grew. I decided that I wasn’t going to do the work my parents wanted.”
Instead, she got a job at ABCD, an anti-poverty agency in Boston, as an assistant in an early childhood classroom.
“I never thought they would hire me because English is my second language, but they did.”
Fakhri loved the job so much that she went to her supervisor and said, “I want to get my CDA,” a Child Development Associate credential. Fakhri didn’t know exactly what a CDA was, but she knew that getting it would be a step forward in her career. Earning the credential was challenging. Fakhri was told she wasn’t ready to take the exam, but she insisted she was.
And she was right.
Next, Fakhri began pursuing an associate’s degree. She became a teacher and then a lead teacher and went on to work as a family case manager. She also served as a mentor for preschool teachers in a program run by Wheelock College. Then Fakhri decided to open her own child care business in her home.
“I was a little scared because I have an accent. And there were people who asked me, Where are you from? Which country? And there were people who, during phone calls, would hear my accent and say, No, thank you.” But other parents were impressed and enrolled their children.
In addition to her own persistence, what was critical to Fakhri’s success was joining a network of child care providers located in Roslindale and West Roxbury called West Zone Family Childcare Networking. She visited other family providers to learn how they ran their businesses. Network members took Fakhri’s calls when she had questions, and the network’s monthly meetings helped with professional development.
Even though Fakhri hadn’t become a doctor, at ABCD she had inherited a class from a teacher who left, and she continued implementing that teacher’s pre-k science curriculum. She continues to incorporate science in her current work, letting kids play outside and explore.
Once the pandemic hit, Fakhri began receiving emails.
“I was getting a lot of emails from Amy O’Leary about a 9:30 Call. I thought, Who is she? Why is she sending so much email? I used to delete them all. But one day I opened one, and I thought, Wow, she’s an advocate. And I started reading about Strategies for Children.
“I wondered if I could be one of those people who do advocacy, too.”
Fakhri reached out to O’Leary to ask if she could be part of the second cohort of Strategies’ Advocacy Network. Fakhri was worried that language might get in the way when she needed to speak to people or write letters. But Titus DosRemedios, Strategies’ deputy director, encouraged her.
“When Titus spoke to me, he made me feel like I could do it.”
Fakhri says the best part of the network is that it connects and empowers the early childhood community.
As part of her Advocacy Network activities, Fakhri chose to invite policymakers to visit her child care program.
“Showing people my program is more powerful than writing a letter,” Fakhri says, “but we still write letters, too.”
State Representative Rob Consalvo came to visit and told Fakhri to have parents send him letters about their child care needs. Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara came on the first day of the Iranian New Year and played with the children in Fakhri’s care. And State Senator Mike Rush visited, too.
What does Fakhri want policymakers to know about her work?
“I am an educator, a small business owner, and a community support all-in-one,” she says. “Home child care providers are not babysitters. Our students progress through a series of lesson plans and are exposed to enrichment activities daily. Parents would not be able to return to work without us. And I create employment opportunities for others.”
Fakhri also wants policymakers to know how important the C3 grants have been in helping child care providers get through the pandemic.
As she reflects on getting her visa, earning her associate degree in early childhood education, and becoming an advocate, Fakhri says it’s a matter of seeing what you want and pursuing it.
If you think you can’t do that, don’t worry because Fakhri’s life offers an important lesson: