May 4, 2023 by HCDE Communications
Courage is required when you leave life to chance, and Hicham Al-Hazbari certainly possesses it. As Harris County Department of Education’s May Employee of the Month, he personifies the phrase “luck of the draw,” having found a new home and passion-filled career.
Al-Hazbari, who hails from a small town in Morocco, observed his father dedicate nearly 40 years to teaching high school history and geography. Hammadi Al-Hazbari instilled the importance of education into his five children and required them to attend college, contrary to what was customary.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in applied linguistics, Al-Hazbari learned several languages including Arabic, French, and English. However, he lacked passion. He recalled his love for computers in high school and decided to go back to school for computer science.
“When you buy your first computer and it breaks, you have to fix it,” said Al-Hazbari. “Then you want to try a new software, and that breaks too. I enjoyed finding the problem.”
In 2007, Al-Hazbari sought to broaden his horizons and advance professionally. He applied for the United States Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a lottery-based green card program that randomly selects candidates from countries with low immigration rates to the U.S.
While working as a computer technician, he received a congratulatory acceptance email, made the decision to move, and landed in Texas on Christmas Day in 2008.
“It’s like a one or two percent chance of being selected in the lottery, so I’m lucky,” said Al-Hazbari. “It was a big shock because I was turning my life upside down and leaving my family, but I didn’t hesitate to come.”
As part of the move, Al-Hazbari left his then-girlfriend, Najah Ibrahimi, in Morocco with a promise to continue their relationship through Skype video calls. He also asked her to apply to the green card lottery program.
Upon joining HCDE as a contract technology specialist in 2009, Al-Hazbari immediately felt a sense of validation in his decision to leave home. He appreciated the chance to make a positive impact on education through his job and quickly developed an attachment to Head Start.
“I was traveling every day to the Head Start centers and special schools throughout the Department,” said Al-Hazbari. “Witnessing how HCDE impacts kids and families, I knew was in the right place. It brought my love of education and technology, together.”
Colleagues say that his contributions go beyond the scope of technology support.
“We demand a lot from our technology team, and we are grateful to them,” said Senior Director of Head Start Venetia Peacock. “However, when you observe a student or colleague struggling and make them feel seen, that’s an important skill you don’t see a lot. Hicham can do that.”
By 2010, Al-Hazbari and Ibrahimi had married. Shortly after, in a turn of improbable luck, Ibrahimi was also selected for a lottery visa. After joining her husband in Texas, she was inspired by his work and decided to pursue a career in education. She volunteered at local centers and eventually became a Head Start teacher with the nonprofit Baker Ripley.
“I love that program and we talked so much about Head Start and how much the little children learn and grow. She wanted to be a part of it too,” said Al-Hazbari.
By the time a permanent position at HCDE became available, word had spread of his dedication and meticulous nature. He was hired on the spot.
“We work behind the scenes and often do work that goes unnoticed, but that doesn’t stop Hicham because he cares,” said IT Help Desk Manager Jaime Salinas. “He gets students ready for the STAAR test. He helps them set up computers, and ensures they have the tools and technology needed to become better learners and productive citizens.”
Al-Hazbari has also been the “support to the support” through his work on phone systems, audio/video programs, live streaming, and technical assistance during monthly board meetings. His peers credit him for easily adapting to new technology and always being a team player.
“In the ten years Hicham has worked with HCDE, he’s grown from basic design support to working with our most complex systems,” said Salinas. “As a manager, I’m very lucky to have a man of Hicham’s caliber on my team. He makes my job easier.”
During the holiday season each year, Al-Hazbari and his wife travel back to Morocco to visit their families and are often asked by colleagues to bring back some infamous “Moroccan mint tea”— an easy task for deserving colleagues. “I consider HCDE my second family because I’m here every day, interacting with them and getting to know them,” said Al-Hazbari. “We may be from Morocco, but since we moved here, Houston is our home. I’m one of the few in the world that are blessed to have two places to consider home.”