Nishi Akter has one main goal in her studies at Fordham University: “I’m doing all this as a way out of the cycle of poverty.”
Born in Noakhali, Bangladesh, Ms. Akter came to the United States with her family in 2013 and settled in the Bronx. She struggled with the abrupt shift in language and culture while also navigating troubles at home, where money was tight.
Despite the challenges, she excelled academically. When she was awarded multiple scholarships and a significant financial package to attend Fordham, Ms. Akter, 18, was excited not only to begin studying for her medical degree, but also to develop a sense of community.
“There’s over 140 clubs on campus, so I was really happy because my high school didn’t have that,” she said. “My main priority in coming here was that I’m just going to immerse myself as much as I can.”
Since starting at Fordham last year, Ms. Akter has taken on leadership roles in groups like the Commuting Students Association and the Dean’s Council, and she decided to change her major to economics. She hopes the degree will position her well for job opportunities and also help her better understand a world that she sees as revolving around money.
“I’ve always been interested in learning about how money works and how governments can help the impoverished,” said Ms. Akter, who has witnessed wealth disparity firsthand. “It’s also personal because I feel like anytime I want to do something, the one obstacle is money.”
Though she was able to secure funding for her education, and later an off-campus apartment, Ms. Akter is food insecure.
“I don’t have reliable, consistent meals every day,” said Ms. Akter, who rarely eats more than twice a day.
Though embarrassed at first to ask for help, she was ultimately connected with Abraham House, an affiliated member of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, which is a beneficiary agency of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund. Abraham House was able to provide her with three $250 gift cards using money from The Fund, and a place to receive a weekly meal.
Ms. Akter was able to buy food staples like bread and cheese in bulk with the gift cards, offering relief that she would have nourishment to fall back on.
“I just want a better life. I want to move past this, so I focus on school as much as I can,” Ms. Akter said. “I want to be in a position where I can help other people like myself, because people don’t understand.”
She continued: “On the outside, everything may seem fine, but you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”
Catholic Charities is among 10 beneficiaries supported by the The Fund’s 110th annual campaign.
The Fund began in 1912, when The Times’s publisher, Adolph S. Ochs, sent a journalist to report about those facing hardship and receiving help from social services agencies in New York City. The goal was to publish 100 stories. The short articles struck a chord with readers, who donated about $3,600. Since then, The Times has worked with nonprofit organizations each year and has raised over $320 million in total, which has been distributed not just to organizations in the city, but also domestically and internationally.