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.
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.
Well, we've almost made it: our fiscal year ends this month. At points, we've been overwhelmed with arrivals (around 40 people in December!) and we've watched the weeks go by without anyone coming (nobody came in April). We learned that Iraqi refugees were calling their cellphones "My Obama"(come to a volunteer orientation to find out why). We've partnered with churches to support ESL programs and we had our first human trafficking awareness event. In short, it's been a full, exciting, and occasionally nerve racking year. We've had some incredible growth as well, and so we wanted to share with you some highlights.
It's not too late to give generously to refugees and to donate to our work. There are many other important factors that can't be quantified: lives touched, grief shared, hope given, lessons learned, meals eaten, first experiences, long waits at Social Services, kids playing across language barriers, first words of English spoken (or Spanish...or Arabic or...). Jesus said that when we welcome strangers, we welcome him. We are so blessed to have been welcoming Jesus with you this past year and look forward to continuing this joyful work next (fiscal) year. Keep an eye out for a state wide update via email.
What would you take? What precious things would you have to leave behind? Refugees come over with what they can carry, bringing clothes and other essentials. Many come with gifts, like handmade shirts and bags, for those who help them in the U.S. As our fiscal year ends, we want to have an end of the year "blow out" give away.
We want refugees to know they have what they need and maybe even have a few things they want. Many of the refugees here are extremely generous. It is often hard to leave their home without sharing a drink or even a meal. We have the chance to return the favor, to show them that they've helped us become more generous. Refugees need cars. Students and families need computers. TV's and DVD players allow them to watch familiar movies (Bollywood for the Bhutanese!) and also use ESL curriculum. Gift cards to grocery stores allow them to buy food above and beyond the necessary items. Rice cookers, microwaves, and vacuum cleaners are helpful. Winter is approaching and they'll soon need coats, hats, and gloves. We need to stock up on basic items (like comforters, sheets for twin beds, blankets, and toiletries). But we also want refugees to have more than just the minimum needed to survive here. We want them to feel blessed, abundantly.
Our fiscal year ends September 30th. What will you do this month to abundantly bless our newest neighbors? For suggestions or more information, please email email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. All donations are tax-deductible.
I overheard an Iraqi refugee talking to his case manager in broken English. I was amazed: this man had spoken no English just a few months before. After the conversation was over, I said to him, "You're English is getting so much better." He laughed and said, "English? Not much. But Spanish, yes." He then started talking in Spanish. We all laughed. Immigration has and continues to reshape America. Refugees are often just as confused as life long residents. They express bewilderment, sometimes outright prejudice and other times, a sense of humor and even enjoyment at how different America is becoming.
Veteran civil rights leader, John Lewis, proclaimed that immigration is the new civil rights battle. As our nation recently opened a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr., it's important for us, especially as Christians, to reflect on our silence, complicity, and compromises. What would King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" say to us, to our churches, about immigration? Fears about transition, about change, about shifts in power and unanticipated alterations of our communal identity are real. But fear is overcome through love--that is, through building relationships, through loving these "others" that we fear. To help provide a context to hear stories, see models of welcoming, and share the joys and struggles of these transitions, we're supporting a film screening of Welcome to Shelbyville on Sept. 17.
This film documents the challenges and blessings in building community across racial, national, and religious lines in a small, Southern town. http://vimeo.com/13152216 Your church can also participate in DREAM Sabbath, which will give your church a chance to hear from and reflect on the experiences of undocumented immigrant youths. You can continue to follow the conversations on the undocumented.tv blog, or even host a screening of their short film. The makers of Welcome to Shelbyville have a Building a Nation of Neighbors curriculum and the NC Council of Churches has put together a great Bible study. It's easy to imagine yourself fighting alongside civil rights leaders back then. But will you stand with our vulnerable immigrant neighbors now? Will you, like the Iraqi refugee, find joy in the differences of our community?
DREAM Sabbath September 16th to October 9th Be a Voice for Undocumented Students!
From September 16th to October 9th, congregations across the United States will lift up the lives of DREAM students in prayers, readings, reflection and education during at least one Sabbath service as a way to help educate and spread awareness of DREAM students and their hopes to attain full recognition of their contributions to this country. The large showing of support by faith groups will hopefully continue to build momentum for the DREAM Act in Congress. Would your congregation consider doing any of the following this fall?
- Inviting a DREAM student (which World Relief Advocacy can help coordinate) to share his/her testimony at a service
- Showing a video of a DREAM student (sample videos will be available in the near future)
- Praying as a congregation for the DREAM student and if comfortable, praying for our elected officials to have the courage to support and pass the DREAM Act
- A call to action for members to pray and fast for the DREAM student who shared his/her testimony and the thousands in our country
- Passing out a bulletin insert with prayer points about DREAM youth so folks can be reminded to pray throughout the week
Please note the service doesn’t have to be called DREAM Sabbath nor does the whole service have to be dedicated to the DREAM student. Also, congregations do not necessarily have to tie the hardships that many undocumented students face to a piece of legislation, but to just highlight their stories which in and of itself is very impactful. This will give congregants an opportunity for prayer and reflection about a very real issue of pain happening within own communities.
This packet of information contains a plethora of resources to help a congregation with their DREAM Sabbath, including stories of DREAM students, bulletin inserts, theological reflections, sermon starters, myths and facts about the DREAM Act, a sample agenda for a DREAM Sabbath event, and much more.
In order to register your event, please click here
Most of us are shocked and horrified by the reality of human trafficking, whether in Bangkok or Raleigh. Rightly so. Everyone should be outraged. But trafficking has blurred edges. I recently read an article that linked human trafficking in Charlotte, NC to drug cartels: it's more profitable to traffic persons. It's also linked to the broken immigration system, including the guest worker program. And the difference between trafficking someone and exploiting their labor is frequently difficult to judge.
Finally, we are living in a culture in which using women is permissible. As soon as we try to understand what is happening here and abroad, the problem keeps expanding and spiraling. It's easy to get overwhelmed. I have no simple answer on how to think through and work to overcome all these problems--problems that connect to other problems, which connect to other problems... I have, however, learned the importance of prayer as a first step. There are too many problems for me to handle; and the reality is always more complicated than I can even imagine. Fortunately, I am not called to be the savior of this world but to live with the knowledge that there is one. Prayer reminds me of this fact. This Saturday, we will set aside time for a prayerful "first response" to the problem of human trafficking in Durham. People will be free to sit or walk around, journal or pray, meditate or examine their lives. As an organization founded out of the Christian church, we do not think of prayer as something to do before we act. We want to act prayerfully.
We also know that human trafficking is a problem that besets our whole community and thus want to welcome the whole community to join us. Christian or not, we all know that this problem is bigger than us as individuals. And we also know that, whether we like it or not, these blurred edges start bumping up against our own lives--what we buy, how we treat others, and who we consider to be less valuable than ourselves. I hope you can join us as we respond reflectively to the problem of human trafficking in our community. For more information, please go to our website, Facebook Event page, or email email@example.com.
I can't imagine their feelings, the weight of the tragedy. An Iraqi refugee family recently buried their 7 year old daughter. It's overwhelming and heartbreaking. We have been and continue to raise money to help cover the costs of the funeral. A family beset with so many burdens--starting over in a new country, navigating the loss of a child--shouldn't have to worry about the financial costs of death in America. The daughter was in the hospital for a week or two. The family practically lived there at the hospital. Many volunteers stopped by to help as they could: sit in silence, listen to frustrations, bring some food, share some kind words, pray together. A nurse told one of the people supporting this family that she noticed something. Many of the visitors of this Muslim family were Christian. Christians and Muslims, sharing life together, even its dark and bitterly painful moments. It's a scene that the media doesn't often show. Not fighting, fear, hatred, and prejudice; just living together, celebrating and now grieving, together. The nurse noticed it. And it should offer us hope, hope for this family, hope for our city, and hope for this country. People can and are loving each other, across various "boundaries," in extraordinarily difficult times. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) to find out how to donate to this family.