School shooting hits home for QC exchange students

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- The smell of global spices fills the air as three Muslim exchange students prepare a Ramadan feast in a cozy Davenport kitchen--far from their families in Pakistan, Thailand, and Egypt.

But they have fit right into school at Davenport Central and North high schools over the last year. They’re almost like any other American teenager--they love selfies and could burst into infectious giggles at any moment.

Leaving their second home in the Quad Cities to return to their parents will be bittersweet.

The students took a leap of faith coming to America through a State Department program at a time when President Trump wants to ban Muslims and crack down on immigration, and school shootings are on the rise.

But their experience in the Quad Cities relieved their fears and shattered stereotypes.

"One of the things I was afraid of when I heard about the Muslim ban was that it would affect our coming to the US," said Hooria Tariq, a Davenport Central High School student from Pakistan. "But when I came here, people accepted us and opened their hearts and houses for us...so I think most of the stuff portrayed on TV, radio, and the internet about the US being against Muslims mostly isn’t true. So coming to the US broke a lot of stereotypes.”

While they have loved making friends, volunteering, and exploring the Quad Cities, their time here is ending on a somber note.

Just a few weeks ago, a fellow exchange student they knew from their program was one of ten people killed in a Texas school shooting.

17-year-old Sabika Sheikh was a bright girl from Pakistan who dreamed of becoming an ambassador, breaking stereotypes about Muslims, and empowering women.

Tragically, Sabika was killed during her first diplomatic opportunity at school--not by the Taliban, but by an American terrorist--her own classmate.

Her death hit home hard for Davenport’s exchange students. They had shared the same dreams of making the world a better place.

"I can see myself in her place, being afraid of what’s going on around her at that time, and now I feel unsafe when I go to school," said Tariq.

But Sabika’s death won’t scare the students from turning their dreams into reality. WATCH: Local exchange student turns dream of designing clothes into reality

“I know I have to stay strong and continue her legacy because she always wanted to do something good for women and society, so I have to continue her mission and show the world we exchange students are not afraid of anything and we will continue to make our countries proud.”

Even before they lost Sabika to a school shooting, the exchange students spoke up about the issue. They participated in the recent March For Our Lives school walkouts along with their classmates to demand gun control.

“I’m sorry for all the American students that died and their families," said Egyptian student Shaimaa Fawzy. "We all have to speak up and join these walkouts and put more effort to change this problem in the US."

Sabika’s death shows that extremist violence is not limited to one country or religion. But these exchange students say that democratic and human values are not limited to one country or religion either.

“Just like we all love our families, we all love our countries, we all want peace, we are all fighting for good," said Tariq. "Those are the things that make every human being around the world together and united.”

There’s one more thing they say unites people of all backgrounds in the Quad Cities.

"WHITEY'S!" They exclaim in unison.

Click here to learn more about how you can host exchange students coming to Iowa.