April 25, 2012

About 40 refugees joined more than 20 volunteers a couple weeks ago to learn more about potential jobs and build relationships as they look for work in Durham. The John O’Daniel Exchange building was a busy place on Saturday, as World Relief Durham hosted our first Employment Skills Workshop.

Volunteers from the community shared their knowledge, skills and resources with refugees anxious to find employment.The refugees separated into groups based on language and rotated through five different sections. David Benfield, owner of Brightside Bamboo, a company he started over a year ago, showed refugees a slideshow of what working for his company entails. Hillary Winter helped lead a session on working in the restaurant industry, drawing on her experiences as a server and hostess. The other three workshops offered the refugees information about how to find and keep a job in housekeeping, sewing, and landscaping and construction. The volunteers also made a point to emphasize employment basics.

Professional attire, strong work ethic and English speaking skills apply to all areas of work, they pointed out. “We are ready to do any type of job,” one Somali refugee said. Most refugees come to the U.S. willing to work as soon as possible, and it’s easy to get discouraged when language barriers and the job market make the search difficult. Taking English classes and developing job skills are necessary, but often frustrating, steps that refugees have to take.

Around 40 refugees came out to the event on Saturday, all highly motivated and ready to learn. Many took notes during the sessions, and enjoyed standing up to introduce themselves in English. The Karen women enjoyed making bags in the sewing workshop, and many refugees were able get contact information from volunteers to help their job search. David Benfield recognized that refugees are hard workers, and exclusively hires Burmese refugees at Brightside Bamboo. He said he initially saw it as a good idea, and then it became his mission. He found that bamboo is an underutilized resource, useful as food as well as timber. One bamboo plant can be harvested hundreds of times, compared with about thirty for other hardwood. It is also protein-rich and can aid in weight-loss. Bamboo is mostly imported from China, although the Southeastern U.S. has a similar temperate climate, which can grow up to 400 varieties of bamboo.

David found a way to combine business with missions, and was able to speak to a group of Burmese men seeking employment at Saturday’s event. As an employer, David is looking for refugees with strong English skills. Alyssa, a Ph.D. student at Duke who is learning Arabic, met a refugee from Iraq who reads and writes English very well, but needs help with professional conversational English. Alyssa and the refugee decided to begin a language exchange in Arabic and English. Partnering up with refugees not only builds relationships, but can help them acquire important job skills through something as simple as practicing their English. Come meet refugees at our next event, Portrait Day on February 4th! Thanks so much to all the volunteers who made this day possible!

April 25, 2012

So, you want to Walk / With World Relief to end human trafficking in Durham. What are the next steps?

1. REGISTERFirst, you can find all the practical details here (when, where, route map, etc). Secondly, you actually will sign up through this site. For walkers who aren't interested in getting their walk timed, it's free (select "community walk" after you hit the button to register). All others have to pay a fee. Enter in your contact info. Type in "World Relief Durham" for the nonprofit you will support. You will also need to select "World Relief Durham" as the existing group you'd like to join. Once you submit the information, you will need to "pay" for the event (it's free, so it automatically processes it and emails you the receipt).

2. BECOME A FUNDRAISER There are three ways to raise funds through this walk. First, we have donation envelopes at our office (801 Gilbert St. #209, Durham 27701). People will write checks to the Great Human Race or to The Volunteer Center of Durham. Put World Relief Durham in the memo. Secondly, you can direct people to our online donation page. Finally, you can set up your own personal online site by clicking here. You will see a green banner near the top with the option to "create a team member fundraising team." Select it. The "active giving" site will prompt you for your username and password. Since this is your first time, click that you do not have them. Fill out the form. Once complete, it will now allow you to log in. After you log in, you will have the chance to create your own URL (website address). I recommend just using your first and last name, no spaces. You can then personalize your own site (name, tagline, message, goals, etc). Be as creative or simple as you like.

3. FUNDRAISE Now that your site is set up, you can email, facebook, tweet, write letters, print flyers, and do everything else to connect people to your own personal fundraising site so they can support you. If you used for first and last name, your webpage will be: http://www.active.com/donate/ghr2012/firstlast (so, for example, my own is: http://www.active.com/donate/ghr2012/timmcgee). Please encourage the people you contact to join us in the walk and/or raise funds on their own (you can raise money even if you aren't walking!). Flyers, the facebook event, and other promo material can be found on our previous blog post. One IMPORTANT NOTE: if it is at all possible to actually collect checks instead of having people donate online, please do it. The online donation subtracts almost 7% of the donation as a "fee." You can include this information, though, on your website as part of your message! Some final details about fundraising (other places to pick up envelopes, how to submit your donations, etc) can be found on the Great Human Race website. The end date for collecting checks (and getting your completed packet to us) is March 16th.

The online fundraising keeps going even after the run! Please email me (tmcgee@wr.org) with any questions.

April 25, 2012

UPDATE: We still need volunteers to greet, direct refugees to the right place, provide refreshments, and just assist as needs arise. Please SIGN UP to help out.

Having your portrait taken is always a memorable event. We want to share this joyful–and occasionally awkward–experience with refugees in Durham. On February 4th, we’ll have a free portrait event, similar to Help-Portrait. Refugees and will be able to come and have their individual or family picture taken by local photographers for free.

The event will be on Saturday, February 4th in the afternoon (1p-4p). The location will be at All Saints Anglican Church, on 15-501 and Garrett Rd, in the shopping center next to Oak Creek Village Apartments.

We need all kinds of volunteers to help with this event.Photographers (and assistants), videographer (to capture the event, interview refugees, etc), event planners, administrators, and general assistance (working to set-up, tear down, and just hang out with refugees while they wait). We’ll need some financial contributions (to cover the costs of printing the portraits) and food donations (snacks!). We’ll also need to access to various equipment (lighting, for instance). Finally, we hope all of our volunteers who are connected to refugees can let them know about the opportunity and help them get there.

We’re excited–there’s a lot to do but it’s a wonderful opportunity to serve and build relationships with our refugee neighbors.

Spread the word through our facebook event page; sign up to volunteer; email Emily Paules (epaules@wr.org) and Tim McGee (tmcgee@wr.org) if you have any questions.

Download a flyer to give to refugees.

April 25, 2012

Employment Skills Workshop: a great opportunity to meet refugees and help them gain skills for employment! As you know, jobs are hard to find these days, especially for people with little English or previous work experience. We're putting together our first ever Employment Skills Workshop to assist refugees as they look for work. This is a great chance for you to help refugees and also to raise awareness and excitement in your church and your community. Here are the details:

What: A series of practical workshops, running in rotation through the afternoon, led by community members who love refugees!

Why: To elevate refugee employability by giving them practical, hands-on training and/or experience with some categories of entry level work.

When: Saturday, January 21 From 12-5PM. (The Workshops can run from 1-3.30PM.) Setup from 12-1 and tear down from 3.30-5.00PM? Where: The World Relief Durham office (John O'Daniel Exchange - 801 Gilbert St. Durham, 27701)

Who can be involved: ANYBODY!

What does this look like: If you have any experience in any of the categories below (even in your own home), you are fully qualified to help a refugee learn what you know. Once you sign up, we’ll connect you with the team teaching the topic you choose and you can work together to plan to teach the basics of your topic in the workshop (each workshop lasting from 30 minutes to no more than 1 hour). Topics to be taught in workshops:

  • Janitorial (home/business cleaning)
  • Hospitality/Restaurant
  • Dishes/Laundry
  • Car Wash
  • Handyman/Maintenance
  • Construction
  • Sewing

Other Needs:

  • Refreshments for the afternoon
  • Photographer/Videographer to document the event

This is a wonderful chance to continue empowering refugees and also to introduce others in the community to the refugees living in Durham. We’re encouraging volunteers to bring at least one friend who you think would benefit from seeing this vibrant ministry in action. Given the urgency of this need—jobs!—we are working diligently and quickly to pull this workshop together. Emily Paules is our staff person coordinating all of the details for this event. Pleases contact her at epaules@wr.org to let her know of your interest and what specific workshop you would like to lead or be involved in. Of course the information covered in the workshop needs to be very basic, so anyone should be qualified to do any of these (with a couple of exceptions). We've got a streamlined process put together for this to make it as simple as possible for you to be involved. So take the first step and let Emily know of your availability, and she will get you plugged in. We look forward to great things with this upcoming weekend. Thanks for your involvement!

April 25, 2012
He secures justice for the orphan and the widow; he loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing. Therefore you are to love the foreigner, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. Deut. 10:18-19

A refugee wanted us to meet with his friend. We asked if this friend was another refugee. He said no. His friend was a man who immigrated to the U.S.A. years ago, and whose visa had expired. This friend was now an undocumented immigrant. After we asked what he wanted to meet about, the refugee shared: this man's boss knows his friend can be deported. He makes him work long hours, for very little money, and threatens to turn him in to the police if he complains, tries to leave, or tells anyone. He's very scared, but I told him he could trust you. World Relief began working in Durham with refugees over three years ago. Over the past year, we've started working with two other highly vulnerable displaced populations: undocumented immigrants and people sold into modern day slavery in North Carolina.

We’ve moved in this direction because we believe that is where God is calling the local church to serve. These verses in Deuteronomy pull together two threads present throughout Scripture. God is present and active on behalf of vulnerable social groups, people who lack social networks to provide for their basic needs. God also passionately defends and provides for foreigners (immigrants, strangers, sojourners). He commands Israel to do the same, reminding that they too were foreigners (and vulnerable slaves) in Egypt. World Reliefs empowers churches in Durham to work right at this intersection, among the most vulnerable of our foreign-born or displaced neighbors.

Why? Because God has a deep, passionate commitment to act on behalf of foreigners and the vulnerable. We expect God to be especially present and active at the intersection of the two groups: refugees, undocumented immigrants, and victims of human trafficking. We simply want to be where God says God will be, participating in the work God promises to do. For immigration, right now we are relying on broader World Relief initiatives like Undocumented.TV and Welcoming the Stranger to encourage churches to approach undocumented immigrants--and the question of immigration reform--in light of verses like Deuteronomy 10:18. We are building partnerships that will allow us to more effectively continue this advocacy work and also provide legal guidance to immigrants throughout RDU in the next year.

With human trafficking, we had our first awareness event in August and have recently restarted the client care aspect of our work. We will continue promoting awareness in our community, reaching out to potential victims, and caring for those who are liberated. Throughout these changes, our work with refugees has only grown stronger, as has our commitment to work in relationship with local churches. We are excited to continue following God's passionate action among our most vulnerable foreign-born neighbors. Join us as we follow the God of the displaced.

April 25, 2012

Last Sunday, I worshiped with the Hanmaum Church in Durham, a Korean-American church. It's always fun to be in a church where I need an interpreter. They also fed me some great food, including kimchi, so that's a bonus. Earlier that week, I met with a Kenyan pastor. Their church wants to work with refugees from Nepal. He told me of a recent meeting he had with a Burmese pastor in Raleigh. Apparently, this Burmese pastor was trained by a Korean missionary in Thailand. It's a small world. And that is what I'm thankful for this year. I am thankful for all the unexpected and unusual connections among diverse peoples right here in Durham.

God is obviously doing things far greater and more unpredictable than we could ever imagine. Over the last few months, we've posted a series of interviews in which refugees tell us their own stories. We're so accustomed to refugees coming that we forget how amazing it is: their voices were silenced and lives threatened, and now, they are here, our neighbors, speaking to us freely. Each voice, each life, is a gift. For them, I am thankful. Here are a few other things, in no particular order, for which I am thankful:

  • Our case management grant for survivors of human trafficking was renewed.
  • We are exploring ways to support vulnerable immigrant populations, both with legal services and advocacy for immigration reform.
  • Almost all of the refugees we've resettled this year have church volunteers or partners.
  • We continue to find jobs for refugees.
  • A coalition of churches and volunteers has formed in Raleigh to help us start resettling refugees there.
  • The two AmeriCorps members with our office are doing amazing work.
  • We started a partnership with Durham Tech's nursing school to provide refugees with more extensive health education and assistance.
  • Our staff, who wonderfully guide refugees through the complex process of resettlement and demonstrate remarkable compassion throughout.
  • Our volunteers: you all amaze me with your willingness to open up your lives to strangers (Matt 25).

I am thankful, most of all, for all the clear reminders that this is not "our work" but your work, the work of the local church. Every success is your success. So thanks for letting us join you in this strange work of God: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ" (2 Cor 5:19).


April 25, 2012

I have a simple idea for Christmas this year. Instead of collecting gifts for refugee kids, what if we help refugee parents shop for their kids themselves? It's one thing to see your kids receive gifts from others. It's different when you get to pick out the gifts yourself.

I assume everyone agrees that this is a good idea, so the question is, how do we do it?

How do we give the gift of giving?It's pretty easy, actually. Over 90% of our clients have church and community volunteers working with them. They are already in relationship with these families. Not all of them can afford to give these parents enough money to buy gifts for their kids, but my guess is most would have the time and desire to take the parents shopping. So, all we need to do is raise the money to give to the refugees and volunteers. The volunteers can take pictures and we will post them here so that those who give can share in the fun. I know it is less satisfying than buying and wrapping the gifts. I get it. But sometimes the less satisfying choice for us is the best way to love and serve others. We give gifts at Christmas not to feel better about ourselves anyways.

We give to remember the joy that is ours because God so selflessly gave everything God had, God's very life, to us. To give parents who have arrived in the last year $30-$40 for each kid under 18 means we need to raise $1,800-$2,500.

Donate online now. Checks can be mailed to our office: 801 Gilbert St. #209 Durham, NC 27701. Please let us know on the memo line that it is for Christmas giving. We know we're running a little late on announcing this: sometimes obvious ideas take a while to think up. Please help us spread the word to your church, office, neighborhood, friends, family, and anyone else you know.



April 25, 2012

Dahir Bedel had been in America for ten days at the time of the interview. The views expressed do not represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner. The interview has been edited to correct grammatical inaccuracies while still preserving the refugee's distinct perspective and voice.

Where are you from? My nationality is Somalian, but I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in Ethiopia for almost 20 years. I traveled from Somalia when I was three years old, in 1991, when the central Somali government had already collapsed. I have been living there since. So I just say I am from Ethiopia. I have been living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

Can you talk about what the refugee camp was like? The refugee camp is located in a very small town…in eastern Ethiopia… near the Somalia border. The life is very difficult there. There are almost more than 18,000 families of refugees. I started my basic life there. I enrolled in school in Ethiopia. Ethiopian schools are very difficult. The curriculum is based on their language called Harari. Also their form of writing is different from Latin…[the Somali language uses a Latin Script]. So in Ethiopia, it’s very difficult to live in a refugee camp.

How did you feel when you first came to America? Were you excited? Very, very excited to come to America because America is a very large country and it is also democratic. So you can live, and you can learn, and everything is better. Very much so.

What is one thing you wished American people knew about refugees? I want to tell them that for refugees, every person when he comes first to America, there is a culture adjustment. He may not be expecting that America is like this. In America all the people are helping you, all the people are smiling, everybody’s happy. Ethiopia is not like this. Very simple, like, “Excuse me, sorry,” – everybody is saying it in America. This is wonderful. You do not see these kind of things in Ethiopia. At least when you see most of the people, you might think that all of them are angry… There are circumstances, most of them based on war, and that is why they came here [to America], for this sentiment.

When you came to America ten days ago, what did you think about the country? Was it what you expected? I’ve been expecting that it’s a very big country, there’s… a diversity of culture, religion, everything. I became happy when I first came. Also in Ethiopia they say there is a diversity of culture and religion, like this, but it’s not like this in Ethiopia….In America I think there is a full democracy, so I am happy.

What would you want to tell other people in your refugee camp about coming to America? They may have a conception about America when they are in the refugee camp. They may think America is like this, like this. There is snow, there are people. There may be some radical idea they believe, especially for Muslims. The Muslims, some have, not all of them, a radical idea about America, that America is chasing Muslim countries and destroying Muslim countries. They do believe such - a small amount of people do believe this. But I am going to tell them that idea is not real… Also, they know the humanity. America is welcoming all refugees, I think. Now, I know many religious people, those from Iraq, Afghanistan, many other countries. So I am going to tell them that there is a democracy in America, so I hope they will be happy when they come. They will see when they arrive.

What idea do people in your country have of America? A number of people in Ethiopia and Somalia are very eager to go to America… A number of people in Ethiopia and in the refugee camp, a number of Somali people are very eager to come to America, especially the youth, because they want to get a basic education. Also a better life. So a number of people are very eager to come.

Are you looking for a job? I have been here for ten days; still I haven’t gotten my social security card. As soon as I get my social security card, I will look for a job.

Did you come here with your family? Almost all of my family was killed in the Somalia civil war in 1998. I was the only one who survived from an attack on our house. My father, brothers, and mother were killed there. So I lived with another family, those were our neighbors… so I have no other family, but they raised me, so they are my family. But they didn’t come yet to America.

Are they going to come? Yes, they are in the process.

April 25, 2012

An Eritrean refugee, who had lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia for six years before coming to the U.S., tells how he became a refugee. He had lived in the U.S. for about two weeks at the time of the interview. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner. The interview has been edited to correct grammatical inaccuracies while still preserving the refugee's distinct perspective and voice.

Can you tell a little bit about what it was like in the refugee camp in Ethiopia? Yes, in Ethiopia, once you get to come or are sent from Eritrea, there is a refugee center that accepts Eritreans, and they put you in camps. Many Eritreans will be given a shelter and food. Then you earn your life through that process.

Why did you have to leave Eritrea?

There are so many problems in Eritrea—political and religious problems. Specifically, my problems were political problems. When I was learning in the university, there were voluntary trainings that had been made by the university programs. Once we looked through the particulars of the campaign, we did not accept that voluntary program, because there were dues of 800 ERN, Nafka, which is the currency for Eritreans. Because it was that much, and everything—the food and the rent, we did not accept that […] But unexpectedly the government gave orders just to go—it became a must—and the student union of the university had a meeting and gave statements from the students and informed the university that the students didn’t accept these programs. Soon military police or government officials came to our dorms and collected us in one of the football stadiums by force and they had there about three or four thousand students in one place. Then they took us to a place, which I didn’t know before even, that was 145 kilometers from our university campus. It was a hot and sunny place, and we were concentrated there with our bare feet for 45 days.

Then we signed a letter…it was not our wish, but forcibly signed. We used to do some heavy physical work…having this…even the government starts to have bad views of us … When I finished my mechanical engineering… I also signed up for national services… When I was there, there were a lot of treatment from the government. They already released our names to the one who just started all violence against the government…Even if you are a kid, you will be forced to work… The last meeting, I decided to go to, for refugees. My friend and I worked in the campaign; we were given fifty dollars per month that couldn’t be for food. I stayed on for four years through that. My friend was not in national services, he was a temporary worker…. and I was in national services. Every temporary worker was collected just to move to military services. He was from Ethiopia.

I had grown up in Ethiopia, even if I am Eritrean, I had grown up in Ethiopia, and he too was from Ethiopia and had grown up in Ethiopia. He was exiled to Eritrea, the same as my parents who were exiled from Ethiopia to Eritrea. Then we were in… one section of fields and unexpectedly he was lost, since he was ordered to go to military services, but that was not his aim to go to military services at that time. Soon I was called to the office, and the boss, that is one of the Eritrean leaders, asked me to tell him to go to the military services. That’s not my will, to say these things, that’s his will to go, but he told me just to bring him, or to find him where his address was. Then I told him that this is not my job or my task, that the military force or military police can find him or ask him…but for some reason they took me to the place which is inside our camp and arrested me. I was in prison for three days. They put me in a van almost till midnight and they took me almost 145 kilometers away…then they led me to the place which is his home, my friend’s home. They ordered me to go inside his home, to knock on the door, and to call him. They were armed and they controlled me. Once I went and knocked… and his sister opened the door… I asked her where my friend was. His name is Jonas…. He jumped out the back door…. Meanwhile they tried to go inside and just thrashed inside. Then I got the opportunity, the chance, to escape, and I escaped and went to nearby friends and the next morning I just left on foot.

Some Eritrean Refugees in a Camp in Ethiopia (not the speaker)


Can you talk about America? What did you think it would be like and how is it different? …America and Eritrea are two quite different things, because here you have freedom of speech, freedom and permits to work. Also, you can express feelings. But there it is very difficult to express feelings and there is very little freedom of speech…. There it is bad administration and management, so once I got this… note to come to the United States, I was really happy, because there could be nothing that could grasp me or could delay me from what I want to be, you know? There you are not leading your life. Somebody is leading your life. Even if you don’t like political things, you are going to get involved in that way. But here you can have options. If you don’t want to be involved in political things, you can be what you want.

What about the people you have met in Durham since you’ve been here? The first time that I got to Durham, I lived with Somali people, which is new for me, even if I know them, but it’s a new culture, even a new language. But we all live together peacefully. Even in Durham we get every accommodation from World Relief and from the American government. Because we have rooms to sleep in, every home has food, and also we are getting service, like now we have job training services and how to get a job and to be self-employed.

Is there anything else you would like to tell refugees? Here in America, what they should have to do now is forget all the bad situations they have been in, and try to be reborn again to try to do what they need to now. Here they can express themselves and they could be, they must be happy, you know.

April 25, 2012

I want to tell you about the big picture, about the 43 million refugees, internally displaced and stateless persons. 43 million. The refugee crises are multiplying, becoming more unpredictable and harder to resolve. One camp has more people living in it than Raleigh does (more pictures of Dadaab, by Brendan Bannon).

I want you to be concerned. I want you to be shocked, to be heart broken, to be, most simply, motivated to make a difference. And to tell everyone you know, and even those you don't know, about it. But I need to write about something much more mundane, about something right here, in Durham. The weather, in fact. In case you haven't noticed, it's getting cold out there (this lovely photo is from The Carolina Wandering).

I always say "refugees come over with what they can carry" and joke that they can't come with couches or beds. It's true. They don't come with blankets either. Or with coats. We need you to help refugees stay warm this winter. We have no blankets, comforters, or winter coats in our warehouse. Please donate: coats, blankets, comforters, space heaters (please, SAFE ones, safe for families with little kids and who aren't used to living with electricity), socks, hats, scarves, and gloves. Donations, which are tax deductible, can be dropped off at our office (801 Gilbert St. #209) during regular business hours. Email JSheppard@wr.org for more information. Please spread the word, and while you share the need, let them know about the 43 million worldwide, the nearly 500,000 in Dadaab, and the individuals and families coming to Durham every month. UPDATE: you can download a flyer to help you spread the word.

April 25, 2012

If you clicked the link from our e-letter and are looking for the interview with the Eritrean Refugee, it's on this page. Sorry for the inconvenience. This is the story of an Iraqi woman from Baghdad who did not want to give her name or release her photo, but was happy to share her story. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner.

When did you come here?

I came here in June 2009.

How did you feel when you first arrived in America?

First, there was a delay in our airplane because of a storm in Chicago, so we [including her husband and baby] at first stayed three days there. I had family there in Chicago. So we called them and said, “Hey, we’re here, we have a delay, we’ll stay for three days if you can come.” They came and we saw them. It was a very nice three days because we hadn’t seen them for 15 years. Then we came to North Carolina. I had no one here, just a friend that came to the airport to take us to our home. So it was nice, here there are a lot of trees and not that many buildings, and you know it’s different from other cities. We like our apartment. We found that our friend had prepared everything at home for us and for my baby. So it was good the first two weeks, then you start thinking about your future and what you’re going to do: I have to look for a job and these things. So I am still looking for a job now–two years and two months.

When did you learn English?

I already came in knowing English, but I improved it here for the past two years.

How did you learn English in Iraq?

In school and in college. We start English in the 5th grade until we graduate from the university. I knew a little bit, but I improved myself.

Does everyone take these English classes and some know it better than others?

Yeah, if you are more curious and smart, you learn more. If you just want to know the basics and that’s all, you can pass.

So you speak Arabic and English?

Yes, and I want to learn more Spanish and French. Tell me about your transition here. Did you leave a lot of family behind in Iraq? Yes, I came here in June 2009. In July 2010, my brother and his wife came. In September, my mom and my other brother came.

How do you feel about leaving Iraq?

I left Iraq in a very bad situation, so even the good memories that I have from my country are no longer happy or good to remember, because the bad things go over the good things over there. So I’m not going to say I’m happy. I left everything there, my memories, my home, my history, everything, but to start here all over again– it’s hard but it’s worth it. I think it’s worth it for me, and for my children.

Did you leave a lot of friends in Iraq?

Yeah, I had a lot of friends. I have a lot of friends here but not in this state. But it’s better than staying there.

Was it hard to make friends here?

No, it’s not hard, but you know if I came here at a younger age, maybe I would have been more adjustable with the culture and the people, because you’ve got school, like at college you get to know more people. But I don’t have a job. I went to school at the community college taking classes over there. I have friends, but you know they will not be like your friends in high school that went with you to college and up until you’re married. All those memories will be with your friends in your country. But I thought if I had a job or I went to school maybe I would have more friends.

Is there anything else you want to tell people about coming in as a refugee?

I always encourage people to come in here and start from the beginning. It’s okay. You think it’s a waste of time–no, being in a stable situation, a safe situation, is the best thing that you will ever imagine. And you may lose someone that you really love, and you may change the place, but I always encourage people that if you have the opportunity to be here, you should be here. Especially for highly educated people in my country, because it’s bad for them to be over there. But you know these obstacles that you have, you imagine in your mind that when you come in here that maybe they will have more opportunities for you to find a job than lower-educated people. They don’t have any bachelor’s degrees or masters or Ph.Ds. and you can’t find a job here because the degree that you have is from your own country, not from here. That’s the difficult thing that you can live with, that you used to be a doctor or engineer in your country and here you have to accept that you are doing housekeeping or something like that, that’s hard. When you come here with a lot of dreams in your mind and you can’t find even the half of the thing that you can do, it’s hard.

Has it been that way for you?

Yeah, I’m looking for jobs. I went to school. I took a certification in health care and have a college education. I have experience working in hospitals and I know so many medical terms. I even took my degree in Durham tech with high grades so they offered me free classes over there but still I can’t find a job here. Durham’s a medical city, but it’s hard if you don’t know someone that can hire you. That’s the only problem.  

April 25, 2012

Muhannad is a 21-year-old refugee from Iraq. He had only been in the United States for a week when interviewed. He speaks some English, but the translator helped with most of this interview. The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of World Relief Durham or any affiliated partner.

When you arrived in America, what did you think? Was it different than you had expected? Some things were just what I expected, and some things were not what I expected. I expected the people to be more helpful, but they are not that much. But some of the things that I saw were much more beautiful than I expected. You have an apartment in Durham already? Yes, and I lives with my family there.

Has World Relief helped you a lot since you have been here? Yes, they were helpful, and they teach us things like how to learn English and how to ride the bus.

What did you feel like before you came to America?

Were you nervous about coming? I was so excited to be here that I did not sleep, just waiting for the time to be here.

Was there anything you were sad about leaving? No. You didn’t leave family? Just friends.

Were you also in a refugee camp? No, we were just in the city in apartments.

What about Iraq? Can you tell me a little bit about how it was to live there? The image that I have from Iraq is that I was in my own country but I was humiliated and neglected, nobody cares about what happens to you.

Did you graduate from a university in Iraq? I just finished primary school.

Are you concerned about learning English? Do you think it will be difficult for you? I am just so excited to learn English and just waiting for the time to learn so I can talk and communicate so I can merge into the community.

What are your dreams and goals for you while you are here in America? I want to be self-sufficient, dependable, able to afford my life expenses, and find a good job. Are you going to start looking for a job after school? I am so excited– if I found a job today I would start.