In 2012, as the civil war spiraled into its second year, there was a giant explosion in Damascus near the school attended by Tadzhidin’s children. More than 100 people were killed or injured in the blast, including seven children who died, Tadzhidin learned after he rushed to the scene. Luckily his own were alive. “I found my children hiding, crying and trembling with other children,” he said.
As conditions continued to deteriorate and food grew scarce, Tadzhidin and his family fled for the far north of Syria. There they stayed for eight months until he, his brother-in-law, and his nephew were arbitrarily arrested and accused of being part of the opposition by masked Syrian government forces, who have been accused of widespread human rights violations. After days of being subjected to electric shock torture, Tadzhidin and his two relatives managed to buy their freedom with gold and other valuables. It was then they decided to leave Syria.
“We fled at three in the morning, walking about sixteen hours, avoiding the regime’s barricades until we reached the border with Turkey,” he said. It was June 2013. The youngest of Tadzhidin’s four children, his daughter, had to be carried on the journey, having recently celebrated her first birthday. Meanwhile, Tadzhidin’s wife, Toria, was seven months pregnant with their second daughter.
More than two and a half years later, Tadzhidin, Toria, and their children finally arrived in Chicago on January 11, 2016, after obtaining refugee status and being selected for resettlement in America through a rigorous and lengthy screening process. Thus ended a long journey that for Tadzhidin began in his native Tajikistan, a country he left as a university student to study Arabic. Tadzhidin knew only the barest of information about Chicago when, ten days before leaving Turkey, he was informed of his family’s final destination. He quickly began reading about the city on the Internet. He learned that Chicago was an ethnically diverse city famous for its architecture.
Tadzhidin and his family are among roughly 4.8 million refugees who have fled the Syrian civil war, an outpouring that has helped push the global number of forcibly displaced people to the highest number ever recorded. President Obama has announced a plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrians in the U.S. in 2016. While the Congress’ response remains uncertain, RefugeeOne and its community of supporters remain prepared to welcome new arrivals and help them rebuild their lives.
RefugeeOne greeted Tadzhidin, Toria and their children at O’Hare with Randi and Paul Carlson and their two children. Randi, a member of Impact 100 Chicago (a women’s philanthropic organization), had been looking for a family volunteer opportunity when she learned about RefugeeOne at Impact 100’s event for finalists. Soon, the Carlsons signed on to co-sponsor a family, and were thrilled to be matched with Tadzhidin, Toria and their children. When Randi met Tadzhidin at the airport, his warmth made an immediate impression on her. Tadzhidin requested that the Carlsons join them to pose for a photograph. Through an interpreter, he told the Carlsons, “We were two families, and now we’re one.”
Tadzhidin said his family’s concerns dissipated at the airport. “Our anxiety and fear changed to happiness when we met this family and the people around us were so nice,” he said. He added that he wanted to thank the U.S. government and everyone else who had helped him and his family begin a new life in America, by providing a furnished apartment and assisting with tasks such as registering his children at school. Tadzhidin is on track to progress to the top level of RefugeeOne’s English program and is already looking for a job with the help of RefugeeOne’s job developers.
“We couldn’t do anything without your help,” he said, mentioning the U.S. government, RefugeeOne and the Carlsons. “My hope and my aim is to be a good U.S. citizen to share in the development and building of this country.”
The Carlsons visit Tadzhidin and his family about every week. They have taken trips to Chicago landmarks such as Maggie Daley Park, communicating through the family’s improving English, Google Translate and, when necessary, charades. “We’re just really happy to be in each other’s lives,” Randi said.
She is confident he and his family will have no trouble adjusting to American society. “I know that they’re going to thrive here in the U.S.,” she said. “You can just see it.”
A group of families supported the Carlson’s co-sponsorship. Randi estimated that 60 families contributed financially or donated items to furnish Tadzhidin and Toria’s new apartment, including a china set that they now use to serve tea to guests.
“When you get families together, the individual effort is so little,” she said. “It was such a minimal effort and it made a world of difference.”