“Girl Noticed” features UNO student

Photo Courtesy of journalstar.com
Photo Courtesy of journalstar.com

Cassie Wade

At the Lutheran Family Services (LFS) building in Lincoln, the faces of two young women peer out from their mural at people passing by, daring to be noticed. Their mural isn’t designed to be simply art, but a call to action for women and refugees all around the world.

The mural at the LFS building is part of the Girl Noticed project created by Florida artist Lori Pratico. Pratico’s project aims to bring awareness to women’s issues and create a dialogue.

“The goal is to get to all 50 states and affect as many people as possible,” Pratico said.

Pratico came up with the idea for the project after watching a film related to the Girl Rising fundraiser. Girl Rising is a global campaign promoting the education of women through the use of storytelling.

“I was moved by a 7-year-old girl in Haiti that was featured,” Pratico said. “She saw what was going on around her and knew there were really no expectations for her future … yet she knew without a doubt she was supposed to be more than what was expected of her.”

Pratico, who was not encouraged to attend college to pursue her passion for art, could relate to the girl’s feelings.

“Six months after high school, I was painting billboards in my hometown of Philadelphia,” Pratico said. “I drove down one of the main streets one night with a friend and out of nowhere, there was one of my billboards.”

Seeing her billboard that night was a pivotal point in Pratico’s career.

“It was the beginning of knowing I could do anything if I set my mind to it,” Pratico said. “I didn’t put limitations on myself because I didn’t go to school and didn’t have training. Eventually, I learned my artwork had a voice.”

With her new found voice as an artist, Pratico said she realized she needed to think about what she wanted to say. She settled on a message that had always been important to her.

“As girls and women, we all have value,” Pratico said. “We are all important, and we can be whatever and whoever we set our mind to. The murals convey that message.”

Pratico’s message arrived in Lincoln this August after a friend shared the Girl Noticed mural project with the city’s mayor.

Pratico received over 30 nominations from “women and girls deserving to be noticed,” who wanted to be the faces of her mural. In the end, she decided on two young women, both former refugees.

One of those young women is University of Nebraska at Omaha student Haifaa Al-Saadi. Al-Saadi’s parents fled Iraq as teenagers. They had Haifaa and their other three children in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before coming to America.

“After my youngest brother was born, our family name was chosen as one of the families that were able to get out of the refugee camp,” Al-Saadi said. “America was the country that chose us.”

Al-Saadi said she and her family experienced culture shock when they first arrived in America because of the different foods, laws and religions.

“We fit in and moved along,” Al-Saadi said. “It was the best thing that happened to us.”

Overcoming the struggle of adjusting to a new life in the U.S. has helped to shape Al-Saadi into the young woman she is today and is what also made her a perfect candidate for the Girl Noticed mural.

“Girl Noticed asked for submissions from girls that have built their own lives, that have come so far from where they started and who will continue to grow,” Al-Saadi said.

Al-Saadi said she feels like the message the mural conveys applies to not only her, but members of her family as well.

“I didn’t let my past hold me back, and I feel like that mural represented every girl from my family,” Al-Saadi said. “Every one of us that will become something in life, whereas if we stayed in the refugee camp we wouldn’t have even had a chance.”

Al-Saadi is a senior majoring in psychology. She will graduate in May and plans to pursue a master’s degree.