Stories of Service: The American Dream

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Leyinzca Bihlajama
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

There are many reasons why an individual chooses to join the military, for Airman 1st Class Faith Sparks, Defender with the 72nd Security Forces Squadron, enlisting in the Air Force is a symbol of gratitude and an expression of the liberties and opportunities afforded to her in the U.S.

In 2004 at the age of 13 Sparks immigrated to the U.S. from Zimbabwe seeking political asylum. Growing up Sparks and her brothers were exposed to a lot of brutal acts performed by youth militias.

“If you were found to have the opposing [political] party’s cards, they would beat up the head of the household,” tells Sparks. “My parents would tell me to hide in the bushes if I spotted them on way home from school.”

As her adolescent years approached Sparks and her family feared for her safety as a young woman.

“I would hear stories of teenage girls disappearing in my area. The youth militia would take them and do whatever they pleased with them,” recalls Sparks. “My father, in trying to protect me, would pay them with money or food to leave us alone. He would promise me that they would not return, but they always did.”

Fortunately, Sparks had a family friend living in the U.S. and was able to move here on a student visa. Moving to a foreign country alone as a child was very challenging for Sparks, who described it as painful. Although she yearned to return to her family, Sparks remained in the U.S. knowing she would be able to safely finish her studies here.

In 2016, 12 years after immigrating, Sparks became a U.S. citizen.

“I will never forget the swearing in ceremony,” says sparks. “That day was one of the proudest moments of my life. It felt surreal. That day, America became part of me.”

Upon receiving her citizenship, Sparks was able to safely travel to Zimbabwe to visit her family. Leaving her home at the age of 13 it was dreamlike to be reunited 13 years later. Sparks describes her trip back home as “monumentally significant,” but not for the reasons one may think.

After being exposed to the American culture where women are free to have a voice and be independent, returning home was eye-opening to Sparks. The cultural differences that were once the norm to her as a child, were evidently oppressive now.

“I feel thankful, now knowing what my life could have been if I stayed there,” said Sparks. “I would be almost like somebody’s property; that’s a wife. Here, I have a say in things that are important to my family. I’m raising my son with my husband right now and I feel heard.”

To Sparks moving to the U.S. and becoming a citizen not only granted safety, but growth as an individual and allowed her to break out of the repressive cycle. With her voice and persistence, Sparks was able to help her mother also break away from the cycle.

“I told mother you have to divorce him (father) and focus on you; you have to make a life on your own,” said Sparks. “To my surprise she was strong and now she (her mother) is running a small business. It’s huge for me to see my family changing in this way.”

The trip back to Zimbabwe provided Sparks with a lot of insight on what life as a female would have looked like for her if she would have stayed in her native country. Thankful for a nation that made her feel safe and provides endless possibilities, Sparks felt an urge to give back and decided to join the Air Force.

“This country helped me become the person I am today and gave me a beautiful family or my own. It gave my son and me a brighter future in a country where you can be anything if you work hard enough.”