Hear Abdulkarim Tell His Story
When Khadijeh couldn't afford to pay for the hospital delivery room, a stranger offered to buy her newborn son.
Determined to Give her Children a Better Future - Khadijeh
When Khadijeh couldn’t afford to pay for the hospital delivery room, a stranger offered to buy her newborn son. As a 33-year-old Afghan woman living in Iran, she was incredibly vulnerable. Her husband had just passed away, and she alone was caring for their three children and her sick mother. Even her extended family let her down, encouraging her to accept the stranger’s offer so she could support her other children. Khadijeh couldn’t bring herself to part with her son and sever the tie with her late husband.
Someone at the hospital recommended she talk to the United Nations. Soon, the UN helped her family move to Slovakia, where they waited to relocate to a country that could take them permanently. After six months, Khadijeh was elated to learn she would be moving to the U.S. She was confident her children would have a better life here, even though she’d never heard of Chicago.
RefugeeOne staff met Khadijeh and her four children at the airport and took them to their new apartment this June. Living in Slovakia prepared them for Chicago winters, but the family had given away most of their possessions. Khadijeh is grateful to RefugeeOne for finding an apartment for her family, giving her and her children coats and boots, and for introducing her to Chicago’s Afghan community. Local Afghans gave her family two beautiful rugs to make their apartment feel more like home. RefugeeOne’s partner, Urban Muslim Minority Alliance (UMMA), also gave her a thoughtful Ramadan gift, which made her feel welcomed.
From the moment she arrived, Khadijeh worked hard in RefugeeOne’s English classes and was consistently at the top of her class. After only four months in the U.S., she applied for a job at Five Star Laundry and was hired on the spot. It’s a physically demanding job with a 90-minute commute on public transit, so she isn’t home to make dinner for her children. She often worries about them, but they look out for one another and her 17-year-old son especially helps around the house. RefugeeOne also arranged for childcare for her youngest child.
“Khadijeh is an amazing example of a woman determined to do whatever it takes to provide for her children. She was very nervous her first days at work but that didn’t stop her,” says Stacey Tsibulsky, RefugeeOne’s Employment Manager. “She’s really proving herself at this job. That enables us to help her get a promotion.”
Today, Khadijeh is very happy that all of her children can go to school, especially her 17-year-old son who would need to have a job if they were still in Slovakia. This summer, the children were counting the days until school started. The two middle daughters, ages 12 and 6, love attending RefugeeOne’s after-school program and making new friends there.
Khadijeh wishes she could help her children more with their schoolwork. She can't always understand their homework or the permission slips sent home but is glad that RefugeeOne staff is able to help. She’s also grateful that Caitlin Martinez, a RefugeeOne volunteer, visits the children twice a week to help with homework and English skills. Caitlin, a senior at Northeastern University, uses homemade flash cards, dialogue games, and a sticker incentive system to help the children with their homework. Once their work is done, everyone loves dancing to Shakira.
Khadijeh’s youngest son, Mohammed, has become an adorable and talkative toddler. His favorite animals are butterflies and his favorite food is “tasty food.” He points to a photo of his father and says, “I have hair and eyes like him.”
Khadijeh hopes that her children will get a quality education and find good jobs, which is why she is willing to work so hard. "Everything I do is for my children." And she gives thanks to have them all with her.
Once Abandoned, Fitina Finds New Family in the U.S.
Fitina was a young woman when her parents abandoned her and her younger siblings.
After surviving years of violent civil war in the Congo and witnessing “destruction, fighting, and killing everywhere,” she helped her family escape in the middle of the night. “We left only with our lives,” she says. After they fled to a Tanzanian refugee camp, her father left. A year later her mother left, too, leaving Fitina and her siblings entirely on their own. And she was only 24.
During the 12 years they spent living in a tiny hut in the camp, Fitina became the guardian of her younger siblings. She also married and gave birth to her son. Soon after, her husband left her and their son. Through all this, she hoped that someday her family would have a better life.
Meanwhile in Illinois, another family gathered. Last Christmas, Katie and Brent Rasmussen and their children heard stories of Brent’s mother’s life in a refugee camp during World War II. Those stories prompted them to help refugees today. A simple Google search led them to RefugeeOne and put them on a path that changed not only their lives, but Fitina’s, her son’s, and her siblings’.
Katie and Brent learned about RefugeeOne’s co-sponsorship program, where a faith community, civic group, or family helps a newly arrived refugee family. Co-sponsors furnish an apartment and raise funds for the refugees’ first months in Chicago. The Rasmussens were eager to help, but the responsibility seemed overwhelming.
That’s when they reached out to three other families in their community. To furnish the home, the four families gathered furniture and household items with help from their co-workers, faith communities, and neighbors. The response was amazing. Soon they had everything they needed and had raised more than $5,000, but they still had no idea who the refugee family would be.
This summer, RefugeeOne told the Rasmussens about Fitina’s family and they quickly agreed to co-sponsor them. The next three days were a blur. Family members hauled furniture up three flights of stairs; others prepared a welcoming meal. The beds were made, cabinets were stocked with food, cleaning supplies, and games for the children, and pictures were hung on the walls.
Two days later, the cosponsors and RefugeeOne’s staff met the family for the first time when they arrived at O’Hare Airport. “They were all wearing winter coats in July,” said Katie. “Someone must have told them about winter in Chicago!”
Fitina remembers it too. “I was so, so happy. It was like seeing my family that I never knew I had before. Everybody was there just for us.”
From the moment they arrived, RefugeeOne staff and the co-sponsoring families have partnered together to help Fitina and her family build hopeful new lives. Fitina works studiously in RefugeeOne’s English classes and is getting help from our employment team to find her first job. She is relieved to no longer worry about having enough food, and she is grateful for the co-sponsoring families who take turns visiting each week. They’ve taught her how to get to the local market, do laundry, and check the mail box, to name just a few things, and the children have loved meeting American kids their age.
RefugeeOne’s summer camp was a highlight of the year, especially an unforgettable field trip to a high ropes course. Fourteen-year-old Rhoda, the youngest of Fitina’s siblings, overcame her fears in the tree tops and never gave up!
Fitina is excited that her son and siblings get to attend school regularly for the first time. After enrolling each child in school, RefugeeOne staff now support Fitina at parent-teacher conferences, serves as liaisons with the schools, and tutor the children in our after-school program.
Just before the children started school this fall, Katie and Brent helped Fitina get everyone ready. They made sure the kids had shoes, the correct uniforms, and school supplies. Katie reviewed vocabulary with the older children and the kids knew almost every word on the flashcards. Meanwhile, Fitina’s 6-year-old son, Gerome, played a memory game with Brent and laughed every time he matched two cards.
“Just knowing there are similarities between us, even though we don’t speak the same language or come from the same background, is amazing,” says Katie. “Whatever you can do, whatever money you can give, is giving a refugee family a better life than they had before.”
“I am so thankful for RefugeeOne and my co-sponsor families,” says Fitina. “They showed kindness to someone they didn’t even know, someone from a different culture. They’ve helped us so much."
Growing Success at Global Gardens - Hasta Bhattarai
For many of us, growing tomatoes or squash is a simple, satisfying way to spend summer afternoons and feed our families. For Hasta Bhattarai, a refugee from Bhutan who was resettled by RefugeeOne in 2008, gardening is all that and more: it’s a way to live out a legacy that goes back generations. As a coordinator of the Global Gardens Refugee Training Farm, he uses his knowledge of farming to help build community among refugees in Chicago.
Bhutan, where Hasta was born, is a small country in the eastern Himalayas. Though it’s known for being the only country that measures Gross National Happiness alongside Gross Domestic Product, Bhutan isn’t always a sunny place—especially not for the Lhotshampa. Descended from Nepalese immigrants who arrived in Bhutan in the 19th century to work as farmers, the Lhotshampa (which means “southerners”) preserved Nepalese traditions even as they thought of themselves as citizens of Bhutan. But by the 1990s, the Bhutanese government had branded the Lhotshampa as illegal immigrants—despite the fact that their families had been working the same farms for generations—and targeted them for harassment, violence, and even deportation.
In 1992, after Hasta graduated high school, the government forced his family from their farm and out of the country. He and his parents, brother, and sister traveled to Nepal, where they settled in a camp alongside other refugees from Bhutan. There, separated from the country and work they had known all their lives, the family waited. Though the wait was punctuated by moments of happiness—Hasta met and married his wife Chandra in Nepal, for instance—it was hard to be in perpetual limbo without citizenship anywhere.
After sixteen years, Hasta and Chandra found out that they were to be permanently settled in Chicago, and better yet, that his parents and siblings would follow. They were greeted by RefugeeOne staff at O’Hare in August 2008, and taken to their new apartment. Soon after, RefugeeOne helped Hasta connect with his first job: working in a restaurant at O’Hare.
As Hasta and his family found their bearings in their new city, he wanted to give back to other refugees. In 2012, he had a chance to do just that when he became one of three leading volunteers at the Global Gardens Refugee Training Farm. The farm is located in Albany Park and holds about 100 forty-foot-long plots tended by refugees, who grow crops familiar and novel to feed their families and sell at a weekly market. The farm includes community garden plots for neighbors, too. Hasta and his fellow volunteers write grant proposals, tackle organizational issues, and get their hands dirty with the other farmers.
Hasta estimates he spends about 20 hours a week at the garden, where he grows bitter melon, broccoli, and snake gourd, among a host of other crops. (“I like all of them equally,” he says.) His plot is thriving—it’s difficult to believe that the long Chicago winter could have slowed the planting season when the garden looks this lush—and provides food for him, Chandra, and their two young sons. But the garden doesn’t just support his family in their present life in Chicago: it also connects them to their past in the Himalayas. “In Bhutan,” he emphasizes, “we were all farmers.”
Refugees from all over the world—and now, from all over the city—have plots at Global Gardens, too. Many of them were resettled by RefugeeOne. “We connect our clients to the garden, but not just as a food source. It helps them become part of the community,” says Helen Sweitzer, manager of adjustment at RefugeeOne. When Hasta talks about what the farm means for others, it’s clear that it provides as much emotional as physical comfort to those who work there. “It’s not only a place to share fresh food, but a place to come together and share stories,” he explains. “The garden helps people practice English: they sell to buyers at the farmer’s market, and they talk to refugees from other places.” And cultural differences are seen as enriching: “We grow some of the same greens,” he says, “but we don’t all cook them the same way--so we learn from each other.”
Miriam is on a Roll
Straight A’s are excellent validation for any student, but for rising eighth-grader Miriam, her place on the high honor roll represents more than academic success. Before being resettled by RefugeeOne in 2012, Miriam didn’t speak a word of English and had not set foot in a classroom in years. Her story is one of bravery and determination—as well as the support that a dedicated community can lend.
Miriam was born in Burma in 2000, a country that has been wracked by violent conflict and human rights violations for more than 50 years. When she was a little girl, her father fled the country in fear for his life. The family hoped his exile would be temporary, but a few years later, it became clear that Miriam, her mother, and her siblings were not safe either. They traveled to Malaysia to join her father, but even outside of Burma, the family’s dreams of safety and education were out of reach: refugee children are not eligible for public school there and Miriam’s parents could not afford to send their children to private school consistently.
After almost three years in Malaysia, they heard the news: Miriam, along with her mother, father, older sister, and younger brother, would be resettled in Chicago. “I felt uncomfortable and happy too when I arrived. I’d never seen such a city,” she explains. “And I felt lonely.”
Miriam had courage and a strong network of support from the beginning. RefugeeOne connected her to a charter school with teachers who had experience working with refugees. RefugeeOne’s youth program staff served as liaisons between Miriam’s home and school, supported her mother and father at parent-teacher conferences to make sure they knew what was happening in class, and provided Miriam free tutoring and computer classes at our after-school program. And Miriam had the help of Tricia Malovey, a teacher who visited her class once a week to help out. “At first, Miriam was a little quiet,” Ms. Malovey remembers. “But she was truly excited to learn.”
When Miriam arrived in Chicago, she had not been to school in almost two years. She was intent on catching up, though, and so she did. Last year, she wowed the whole school when she placed in the top three at a spelling bee—in English.
This summer, Miriam is one of 80 refugee children at RefugeeOne’s summer camp. Alongside staff and a team of energetic volunteers, Miriam and her friends play soccer, work on arts and crafts, and go on field trips to museums and Lake Michigan. In the fall, when school resumes, she’ll return to the after-school program with 200 more refugee youth and get a new backpack filled with school supplies from our supporters.
“I appreciate how RefugeeOne continues to be there for Miriam,” says Ms. Malovey. “Even as her parents have built security in the jobs RefugeeOne helped them find, and Miriam and her siblings have made friends, the youth program is still a safe place and a bridge between her family life and school life. She holds both of those dearly—she’s proud of who she is and where she comes from. And she’s already done so much.”
A Better Life for Our Children
Said and Hodan didn’t know each other in Somalia. But when their country’s bloody, ongoing civil war began in 1991, both of their lives were at risk simply because of the clan they were born into. They separately fled Somalia to a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Djibouti. That was where they met, fell in love, and married.
As refugees, the couple led a difficult life in Djibouti. They didn’t want their plight to be their children’s fate, so when they learned that their children could never enroll in school due to their refugee status, the family applied for relocation to a third country.
The family finally arrived in Chicago in November 2012. After 17 years of 100° temperatures in Djibouti, Chicago felt bitterly cold. Said arrived dressed in a t-shirt. “I froze,” he said.
But Said and Hodan vividly remember the warm welcome they received from RefugeeOne. Their case manager was waiting at O’Hare Airport with winter coats, gloves, and hats. He drove them to their newly-furnished apartment where a delicious Somali meal was waiting.
The next day, Said and Hodan were brought to RefugeeOne to begin English classes and enroll in the employment program. Hodan secured a job cleaning hotel rooms and brought an important early income for the family. RefugeeOne helped Said find work as a dishwasher soon after.
Said and Hodan came here for their children, so they were dedicated to accessing every RefugeeOne service to ensure their children’s success and happiness. Their four children became enthusiastic participants in RefugeeOne’s after-school program and continue to receive home tutoring each week. The results? The two oldest girls brought home a dozen As and Bs on recent report cards.
Said and Hodan’s children now have a bright future ahead of them. Their oldest daughter, Muna, has a dream for her future. “I don’t want to be a doctor or teacher when I grow up. I want to work at RefugeeOne and help new refugee families in Chicago.”
Pursuit of the American Dream
When asked if he would ever return to his home country of Burma (Myanmar), Molto’s answer is a definite “No” and his expression emphasizes that clearly. His eyes are filled with fear and resentment when he points to an indentation on his skull above his left eye and describes the horrible beatings he received by policemen in Burma.
Molto Salim Bin Sultan and his wife, Aminah Binti Aliahmada, lived a relatively normal life in Burma until the day when rebel forces came to recruit soldiers, including Molto. Fearing for his life, Molto made the difficult decision with his family to leave their belongings, their home, and their community in search of safety. For almost four years, they walked through the difficult terrain of Burma, experiencing a nomadic lifestyle filled with hunger, dehydration, and violent attacks from the police. It was during this time that Molto was the victim of the attack that caused him to leave Burma and vow never to return.
The family arrived illegally in Malaysia where they found themselves without any opportunities. Their children could not attend school and they could not work legally. The only work they could find were occasional, unauthorized construction jobs for Molto and seamstress work for Aminah. But this work could barely provide for them and their children. Their situation in Malaysia proved even more difficult with the police closely monitoring and harassing them. They were constantly asked to produce legal documents which they did not possess and had to pay bribes of $50-$100 to avoid being taken to jail. After eight years of these hardships, the family finally obtained permission to reside in Malaysia legally, but for the next 22 years the family still had no opportunities for education or employment.
After 30 years of living in Malaysia, Molto, Aminah, and their youngest son Muhamad were accepted to be resettled in America. In August 2013, they arrived in Chicago. Today, they are thankful for how their lives are progressing and they have hope for the future. The family appreciates how RefugeeOne has helped them learn English, secure housing, and find employment, assisting them on their path to realizing their American Dream of one day owning a home, car, and sending their youngest child to college.
While their future seems bright, they continue to think of family members--sons, daughters, and grandchildren-- that were left behind. They hope that someday soon their whole family will be together again.
Art is more than a career for Ghaith Salman Jarew – it is his calling. If his artistic fate had not been sealed at birth when he became the newest member of a creative family of artists, it certainly was when he picked up a paint brush at the young age of six and felt the sensation of destiny as he held the brush between his fingers. Immediately, the paintbrush seemed like an extension of himself, and he knew that art would forever be a central part of his life. Ten years later, while his fellow sixteen year olds were immersed in the typical experiences of adolescence, he was already painting professionally and building a name for himself in the Middle Eastern artistic sphere. In 2001, he graduated from a prestigious Fine Arts Academy and his reputation as an artist continued to grow, his renown stemming from his two art galleries in Baghdad. He was also well known in artistic circles for his unique technique of mixing painting materials on the same canvas.
In 2004, a calamitous upheaval forced Ghaith and his wife to flee from their native country of Iraq to Jordan, where he was fortunately able to continue selling his artwork. In December of 2012, he and his wife resettled in the United States. As he boarded the plane for his flight to America, he not only waved goodbye to the land that he grew up on, to the friends and family whom he loved, and to the familiarity of his own culture and language, but he also had to say goodbye to his widely revered reputation as an artist. Now in Chicago, Ghaith S. Jarew, a man who had achieved artistic fame in the Middle East, has been forced to start over.
Ghaith’s story is a familiar one for many refugees who have resettled here in Chicago. Before relocating to the United States, many refugees formerly had been professionals who possessed esteemed degrees and respected positions in their home countries. Some were doctors, others carpenters, others teachers. However, when war, terror, or persecution turned their worlds inside-out, these refugees had to flee in order to survive. Once they arrive here in Chicago, refugees are determined to rebuild their shattered lives. They work with RefugeeOne staff to learn English and go through the Job Readiness and Placement Services program so that they are prepared to apply for, interview and work at a new job. However, they must take any job they can get in order to sustain themselves and their families, often settling into low-skilled, low-paying jobs outside of their areas of expertise. Like Ghaith, they must start over, their hard work and professional careers in their home countries relegated to the past.
Most refugees do not dwell on the losses of their pasts, believing that resettlement in the United States offers them a chance to achieve bright futures. RefugeeOne seeks to provide refugees with the tools they need to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance. Stories like Ghaith’s reaffirm our mission as a refugee resettlement agency. Ghaith’s future looks bright, for he has not forgotten his calling. In his spare time he is working to build a name for himself as an artist here in Chicago, and his determined pursuit of an artistic career is an inspiration to us all.
What if the most dramatic change in your life began with “And then the soldiers came?”
For so many refugees resettled by RefugeeOne, this is how their story begins: And then the soldiers came and attacked our village…and then the soldiers came and took my father….and then the soldiers came and grabbed her off the street.
For one young Burmese farmer, Thang Tung Pau, his story starts “Our family did not fight the junta, we tried to get along and not be involved at all. I was working in my family’s apple orchard and then the soldiers came for me.”
Pau, like many Burmese, uses his family’s name as his first name. He was dragged out of the orchard in front of his pregnant wife and his aging parents. What followed was three years of forced labor in a jade mine.
One night, Pau saw his opportunity. He slipped away from the mine and crossed the border into Thailand. There, he was relegated to a refugee camp. Once in the camp, Pau collected any English language books or magazines he could and taught himself English. From the beginning, Pau was determined to live a life of self-reliance.
There are only seventeen countries that resettle refugees and all of them use English as the native language or accommodate English speakers in a multi-cultural society. Pau decided to study English so that he would be ready to be successful if selected for resettlement.
By last November, just four months after stepping off the plane in the United States, Pau was working as a janitor at a gym. In his spare time he helped translate for arriving Burmese refugees. He also began a 3-month program at Progressive Driving School. Pau passed the commercial drivers license test, and enrolled in Progressive’s job placement service.
When asked why he wanted to drive a truck, Pau replied, “I like to drive.” He drove a dump truck at the jade mine. He added, “Since I arrived in the United States, in my mind, I’ve been thinking about my future. “For me, the only way to earn more money is to be a truck driver. My English is not good and I don’t have [an American] education.” When RefugeeOne called Pau in July to ask him to speak about his first year in the U. S., he was on a delivery trip in another state!
A New Beginning
Desire Bahombwa Asukulu arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on April 17, 2012, exhausted from the flight and over a decade of turmoil in his home country of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With him were his wife, Alphonsine, and their six children. As expected, the family was apprehensive about resettling in their new home; the life that they led before coming to Chicago left them with years of uncertainty.
In October of 1996, a brutal conflict was waged in the DRC between ethnic militias and the government. The rebels began coercing men to fight in the vicious civil war.
Often, those who didn’t join them were killed. In 1997, Desire – who refused to become a rebel solider – and his wife were forced to flee from their home by foot. They walked toward Tanzania for 3 days, seeking asylum in the neighboring country. Along with them were other townspeople, his elderly mother, brothers and sisters, and his wife’s family. Once they crossed the border, they were welcomed into the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp by UNHCR.
Life in the camp was challenging. Many died from illness and inadequate medical care. Provided with limited space, Desire built a small 25ft by 15ft hut, using cut wood they collected themselves. For a year, he and his wife grew idle with little work to do. But his 15 years of education – and his prior occupation at a non-profit organization fundraising for disadvantaged children – would prove useful in the camp. When a secondary school was opened in Nyarugusu, Desire was hired as a teacher, giving lessons on economics and finance. This new position allowed him to supplement the meager food rations they received. Despite the rough conditions, it was in the camp that all six of their children were born.
Upon his realization that the situation in the DRC was worsening, in 2002 he met with UNHCR officials to request asylum in another country. It wasn’t until eight years later in 2010 that the eight-member family was told they would be considered for resettlement. Though unsure of what to expect, Desire rejoiced in the good news. They would finally be leaving their misery behind. It was only one day before leaving Tanzania that Desire and his family found out they would be going to Chicago.
When greeted at the airport by RefugeeOne staff and a co-sponsor group from the Yale University Alumni Club of Chicago, his anxieties began to subside. He was overcome with, of all things, courage. Courage to begin his first job, English and ensure his children have a chance at an excellent education.
As the doors to their new apartment swung open, they were taken aback. They were no longer cramped together in the make-shift shelter they had lived in for 15 years, but were surrounded by the warmth indicative of a real home. The house, replete with all the necessities to start over, including clothes, furniture, and toys for the children, was more than they could have asked for. Desire and his family are endlessly grateful for the compassion that was, and continues to be shown by the Yale Alumni Club and RefugeeOne staff.
He is eager to begin his calm and conflict-free life. Once they settle in, Desire plans on accepting the first job offered to him. He dreams of continuing his education and providing a good life for his children. When asked if he wants to return home one day, he quickly replies “no,” and states that this is his country now.
As of September 17, 2012
Desire has just been offered a job and will start working at the end of September 2012. He is completing his English Language Training at RefugeeOne and is enrolled in Computer Courses where he has shown excellent keyboarding skills —25 WPM. Desire is multi-lingual and speaks over 5 different languages.
Desire’s children have started school and Alphonsine, Desire’s wife continues her English Language Training classes.
Your financial contribution can assist with the resettlement of families like Desire’s.
On September 7, 2011, Abdulkarim Arabab Lazim, with his two small children by his side – Abdulmunim (7) and Selima (5) – arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport, exhausted after a long journey from Kenya. Their arduous journey originates in El Geneina, a village on the western edge of the Darfur region in The Sudan.
One evening, their village was brutally attacked and Abdulkarim – with his wife, son, and some elders – were forced to flee for their lives. They ran toward Nyala; only travelling through the bush during the cover of night. It took several months to complete their journey by foot.
After being told that Nyala was no longer safe either, the family began walking once again. This time they headed toward Kosti, a distance nearly twice as long as their first sojourn. After ten days of walking, a passing truck approached them along the road. At first, the small, frightened group believed the truck’s occupants to be dangerous, and were prepared to run for their lives again. Fortunately though, they were told they only wanted to help them; and they drove them the rest of the way to Kosti.
They left Kosti after a short time, when they heard that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) had established bases in Kadugli, near the Nuba Mountains. For Abdulkarim and his family, Kadugli symbolized a place for food, shelter and safety. Their daughter, Selima was born in Kadugli. In 2007, a few years after their arrival in Kadugli, an NGO worker told them that they, along with three other families, were chosen to be moved to a refugee camp in Kenya, called Kakuma.
At the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya, Abdulkarim’s wife, pregnant with their 3rd child, was diagnosed with malaria. Although severely ill and hospitalized, she found the strength to give birth to a baby boy. Unfortunately, soon after their second son was born, Abdulkarim’s wife passed away. For some time thereafter, Abdulkarim walked an hour’s distance to get milk to feed his baby boy. In spite of this persistence, after five months, the baby died. Abdulkarim pleaded to be taken anywhere else. But he was eventually convinced to remain at Kakuma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) then moved him and his children to a section of the camp specifically for widowed fathers. One day a list went up inside the camp listing the names of people who were approved for resettlement in the United States. Abdulkarim and his children’s names were on the list.
After completing the lengthy interview process, he was told that he would be going to Chicago. Although he was afraid of being the only family out of the entire group to be resettled in Chicago, he was comforted by the knowledge that he would be going to the place of Barack Obama’s home.
Abdulkarim is beyond grateful for the opportunity he has to begin a new life all over again. He is excited to learn, and his enthusiasm serves to inspire us at RefugeeOne. Abdulkarim is committed to working hard, so he can be a role model for his children; like any good father. He is patiently waiting for the day that he can tell his children about their lives in The Sudan and all the struggles they have been through. He hopes that they will achieve more than he can even imagine.
As of September 17, 2012
Abdulkarim is currently attending English Language Training at RefugeeOne. He has been working closely with our Job Readiness Team to find employment. His children have started school.
Despite his enthusiasm, finding employment can be a difficult task for many like Abdulkarim who arrived with no formal education and very limited skills.
Your financial contribution can assist refugees like Abdulkarim with rent payments and other living expenses until they are prepared to enter the work force.
From Burma to Chicago
In the years before her life was uprooted by Burma’s military junta, Htoo Eh was a primary grade school teacher in Tay Dey, a village in southern Burma. She and her husband Kle-Klo Say had been married four years and had had two children before deciding their village was no longer safe, due to constant bombardment from the Burmese Army. Though the family was frightened, they were prepared for the arrival of the brutal military regime; inside their home was an emergency kit stocked with clothing and a few pounds of rice, ready for when the family had to flee at a moment’s notice.
The family travelled for one month through the jungle, resting on the ground of the dense forest. However, at each place they took respite, they would again encounter the Army and were forced to run off. Soon the family reached an area of the forest known as Ee Hto Hta. There, Htoo Eh and Kle-Klo Say created a makeshift home from bamboo. They stayed in their new “home,” for three months then decided the only way to remain safe was to go to a refugee camp in Thailand. However, by then, the Thai government had closed the Thai-Burma border where the camps were located so access to the camps was stopped. Their only choice then, was to sneak in.
It was an extremely risky move; risky because the Burmese border was only 2.5 miles from the camp. However, the family arrived at the Mae La Oon refugee camp in northern Thailand in 2006 after successfully traversing the carefully guarded Thai border. Though there were wooden houses set up in the camp, they were incredibly overcrowded, offering no privacy for the small family. So, like before, they constructed a bamboo hut for shelter. It was in the camp, in 2007, that their second daughter – Eh Htee Say – was born.
The conditions of the camp were hardly sanitary, consequently, every few weeks the children got sick. A year after their youngest daughter was born, the family experienced another hardship. Htoo’s husband, Kle Klo Say became sick and never recovered. In 2008, after seven years of marriage and three children, he passed away leaving the family fatherless.
Throughout the ordeal, Htoo Eh maintains that she was, of all things, lucky. Lucky to have arrived at the Mae La Oon camp when she did, for her family was among the very last group able to register for resettlement with UNHCR since 2006; thus their 5-year process of coming to the United States began.
Htoo Eh arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on November 3, 2011 with her three children – Soe K’ Paw Shee (9), Shee Say (7), and Htee Say (4) – and younger brother, Day Htoo (18). She is grateful for the chance she has been given. Here, her children have not been sick and are attending school. She says their apartment is warm and there are more than enough clothes for her and her family.
Her Baptist roots bring her to church every week, helping her to handle the challenges she faces in Chicago. She wholeheartedly appreciates the churches that helped co-sponsor her family. She is humbled by their collaborative efforts to furnish and set up the apartment before the family’s arrival. Their generosity has helped the family begin to live their new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance in the U.S.
She dreams of the day when her mother and sister, who are still in the Thailand camp, will join her in Chicago. She is eager to learn English so she can get her high school diploma. Although she is currently searching for any type of job, she hopes to one day return to her teaching roots.
And on her left hand, with painted nails, she still wears the wedding ring that was given to her a decade ago.
As of March 2012
Htoo and her family moved to Arkansas where, through a relative, she was able to find employment in the manufacturing field.
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