Sameer and Hanan – Five Years Later

Sameer and Hanan originalA lot can happen in five years.  That’s enough time to graduate college or have a child start kindergarten.  For Sameer, Hanan and their four children, five years means they are now about to become U.S. citizens.  Five years ago, they arrived to Washington after fleeing persecution and violence in Iraq then surviving in a refugee camp on the border of Syria.  They landed at SeaTac Airport with a few bags and knowing no one in Washington State.

jk_20170713_WorldRelief_SameerFamily-5 (1).jpgFive years later, so much has happened.  The children have grown from little kids who spoke only Arabic, to young people who have mastered English and are constantly tackling school and life with excitement and energy.  After months of practice and lessons, Hanan got her driver’s license this year and is confidently driving her kids to activities around town.

jk_20170713_WorldRelief_SameerFamily-6Sameer, who quickly found work upon arriving to America, is now working on mastering U.S. history so he can pass his upcoming citizenship test.  We are proud to be able to help hundreds of families each year move closer to citizenship through our Immigration and Legal Services program.  For Sameer, Hanan, Saleh, Hazim and Seedra, this is the culmination of a journey that took their family half way around the world to find a safe and hopeful future here in Western Washington.

A Happy Birthday of Sorts

The following is a reflection by Liz Hadley, World Relief Employment Specialist. Names have been changed for privacy.

I brought a handful of daffodils to dinner–ones I had picked from the side of the rode en route to the apartment. I wanted to bring something to celebrate.

I knocked on the door, offered my handful of flowers and a hug to my friend, and then watched as her youngest child teetered around the living room. “She’s walking now!” I thought. The first time I had heard about this little one, she was mere months old, in hiding, and living far from her mom.

Our dinner tonight is a birthday dinner of sorts. Sayida calls this day her “new birthday”: it’s the day she was granted asylum and her life started over.

A year ago, I remember seeing her in our office for the first time. I had heard of a female asylee from Afghanistan being released from the Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma…and then I met her in front of the copier and fax machine. She was strong and relieved, but also anxious.

I remember holding in my hands the threatening letters from the Taliban that were posted on Sayida’s door back home. I remember her telling me that while in detention, she prepared her own asylum case by telling her story to an Iranian woman who translated it into English for a Congolese woman who then wrote it down in English. All three of them were awaiting their court hearing, all three of them believing in one another. I remember crying with her as she told me how old her children were, how they had to split the children up for safety, and how the youngest one should still have been nursing. I remember I couldn’t tell her if or when her family would be able to come.

 

Today I sit at their American-style dinner table and smile at how her husband, Mustafa, is patiently feeding the little one and leaning over to laugh and ask Sayida (again) what I’ve just said. And I’m in love with the joy and positivity of their journey. When I took her to her first job interview, she explained to the manager that she was an engineer in Afghanistan and had worked on water projects to help women in her country grow vegetables. I was so proud of how she communicated her own strength and story.

I remember bringing her a roll of bread while she worked her way through the company’s AutoCAD interview test…she hadn’t eaten all day but was intent on showing the company what skills she had to offer. And this interview turned into an internship, and the internship turned into a job, and now everyday she carpools with two other Afghans to work with the engineering team.

In the Fall I remember meeting her for coffee near her workplace and asking about an update…any news on her family? Nothing yet.

And I remember the text I received 2 months ago that read “I have good news. My family visas  issued” and then a week later a picture of all of them together at the airport.

I met her at our office by the copier and fax machine again, but this time everything was different. Her 1 year old in her arms and the older two in tow, she introduced me to Mustafa: the man who had supported her engineering work all along, who had phoned her to tell her it wasn’t safe to come back to Afghanistan, who had cared for their children while she sought asylum, and who had waited nearly a year to be all together in safety.

And now at dinner Mustafa pulls out a stack of old photos for me to riffle through–small memories of their life before–he practices the little English he knows, and laughs with his children who are all learning to be siblings again. He cares for the two youngest while Sayida goes to work during the week and he’s prepared us dinner tonight. When I ask him how things are, he tells me “America is good!” with a laugh and a smile.

We talk about how much a year has held – how much has happened to their family.

Today marks a year of freedom for Sayida, but only a mere 2 months for her family. “But everything is good, thanks God” she tells me as she pours tea and reminds me that I can sleep on the couch tonight since Seattle is so far away.

I decline the couch surfing option but take the tea, and thank God also for the strength and joy this family has given me.

Join us in Empowering Women like Sayida

 

Sewing with a Purpose

 

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Our Women’s Sewing Class offers a safe space for women to learn English, foster community, and develop skills. Watch stories of mutual transformation from women in the class in this video.

One of the main challenges that refugee women face when they arrive in America is learning a new language.  That task becomes exponentially harder if they are pre-literate and don’t know how to read and write in their native language. As a result, many of these women find it incredibly difficult to learn English and venture out into their new surroundings, making them one of our most vulnerable and isolated populations.

World Relief has partnered with Hillside Church and local volunteers to provide a dedicated sewing and childcare space and to create an 8-week basic sewing and vocational English language class. The sewing class not only provides these women with marketable skills, but it’s also a space for them to find community and practice relevant English skills.

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The first class was a great success. Eight participants met with our volunteer teachers to create weekly projects ranging from oven mitts to small purses. The women were also given the opportunity to create two baby blankets for future refugee families in need. As a result of the class, two women were hired by local companies. Future classes have become so popular, there is now a waiting list to enroll.

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“It was very good for me. It is more than sewing I learn. I make friends and learn many things, make beautiful things.” – Monica

“One of the main things that will stick with me is how women are women where ever they are from. Our life circumstances are vastly different but we have the same concerns – wanting to create a loving home for our families, wanting to provide for our kids, and the joy in being in a safe community, sharing with like-minded women.”  -Debra Voelker, Sewing Class Volunteer

 

Sewing Volunteer

Jeanine and Mursal


How Can You Get Involved?

In light of the inaugural class’ success, World Relief plans to offer this class again   beginning on May 2nd. Our goal is to further develop and improve the curriculum to best meet the needs of the participants.

Click Here to learn how to Volunteer in the class.

We want to upgrade to new sewing machines for the class. New machines will enhance the students’ learning experience and allow them to practice on a wider variety of materials.

Costs for the next class will include:

  • $650 per student for materials and transportation
  • $500 per sewing machine
  • $1,250 for childcare for all the moms in the class

Donate to empower refugees.

10 Ways You can Help Refugees in the Puget Sound Now

Now more than ever, refugee families such as Hussein, Sabeeha, and their six children need to feel they are welcomed and valued as they work to rebuild their lives and contribute to our shared community. Below are a few ways you can help refugees and other vulnerable immigrants in the Puget Sound region right now

1. DonateThe presidential administration recently lowered the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. by more than half. This decision strips away funding for refugee resettlement infrastructure, meaning the loss of experienced staff and the deterioration of vital services for refugees in the Seattle area. Your investment today will help preserve vital services for more than 1,000 refugees from 28 countries who arrived to the Seattle area in the last year. A gift of $54 provides one week of English class or one month of transportation costs for a newly arrived refugee. 

2. Advocate: If you can vote (or even write) in English, you have what many refugees and immigrants lack. Speak on their behalf. Call your senators and representatives & tell them your community welcomes refugees. Visit our advocacy page to learn how.

3. Host a House Party for Refugees: We invite you to become an ally of refugees and other vulnerable immigrants who are new to our community. Throwing a house party for refugees is a way for you to invite your friends, family, and coworkers to empower refugees here in Western Washington.

4. Educate: With knowledge about refugees and the resettlement process, you can raise awareness or dispel misunderstandings about refugees among your family, friends, and the broader community. Start a conversation or post on social media anytime you see an opportunity to give accurate information. Below are some resources to help you.

5. Spread the Word: Stay connected by liking us on Facebook, following us on Twitter, and checking out our Instagram page. #SeattleWelcomesRefugees #WeWelcomeRefugees #RefugeesWelcome

6. Donation Drive: There are many specific needs our newly arrived refugee families have. Especially in need right now are car seats and larger sized diapers. Check out our Amazon gift registry to ship needed items directly to our office.

7. Employ a Refugee: At World Relief Seattle, we prepare refugees for employment and self-sufficiency in the United States. Refugees come to the United States with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. In addition to having diverse skills, all refugees are qualified, authorized, and reliable. We want to partner with you to support your business growth. You can save thousands of dollars in marketing and temp agency bills by choosing World Relief Seattle to provide you with excellent employees. Contact a World Relief employment specialist about hiring refugees.

8. Volunteer: There are many ways to join World Relief Seattle in welcoming the stranger and building mutually transformative relationships.Visit our volunteer page to learn about the different ways to get involved. The outpouring of interest from the community in volunteering with us has been encouraging. We are responding to these inquiries as quickly as possible and appreciate your patience as we respond to everyone. Know there are some limitations to how many volunteers we can train at this time.

9. Connect World Relief to Affordable Housing Options: One of the immediate barriers to newly arrived refugees is the high cost of housing in the region. We greatly appreciate information on, or connections to, local affordable housing options such as apartments, homes, or mother-in-law units. Invest in the financial future of a refugee family by considering renting your space at an affordable rate. Send us an email if you have any leads.

10. Love your friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are refugees.  They are likely feeling afraid right now and unsure of their future. They may even have relatives overseas that have been affected by this policy change.  Visit them and ask them how they are doing.  Reassure them that you love and care about them. You can also go to visit an East African market or an Iraqi restaurant.  As you buy something from the shop, talk with the people there and listen to them.  Let them know that you are happy that they are fellow Americans.

To learn more about any of these ideas, email us at volunteerseattle@wr.org or give us a call at 253-277-1121

Since 1979, World Relief Seattle has partnered with the U.S. government and the local community to welcome people fleeing violence and persecution, most of whom are women and children. As we witness the greatest displacement of people the world has known, this is a critical moment to stand with refugees.

Governmental policy may change, but our commitment to stand with refugees remains firm. Below are a few ways you can help refugees and other vulnerable immigrants in the Puget Sound region right now

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From Conflict in the Congo to Cycling the Cascades

will-4A year after arriving to the U.S., William found himself riding a bicycle up the steep roads of Mt. Rainier.  It was the beginning of a 400 mile journey he was taking to help other refugees like himself.  Years before, William and his younger sister and their aunt fled ethnic conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They had fled to Uganda, but living as refugees was not a permanent solution for the small family. In Uganda, William studied English and looked for the little work that was available; the family waited.  They were waiting for a chance to move to Seattle and a new start.

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William riding along the 400 mile journey to Spokane – Photo Credit: Nathan Hadley

When William, his aunt, and sister arrived to Washington, they stayed with a local family in a Host Home before their own apartment was set up.  Later he was introduced to Sam, a student at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), who met with him each week to practice English and share their culture and lives with each other.  That wouldn’t be William’s last connection to SPU.  After improving his English in classes at World Relief, William got his first job in the U.S. and rode a donated bicycle rode to and from work every day like a true Seattleite.
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William’s bike-riding skill got him an invitation to join the second annual SEA-TRI-KAN: Ride for Refugee Employment bike team.  SEA-TRI-KAN riders travel from the World Relief Seattle office to our office in Tri-Cities before finishing the journey at World Relief Spokane.  Riders raise support and awareness for refugee employment in Washington State.

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A selfie moment with an SPU teammate – Photo Credit: Avery Parducci

Several of William’s teammates on the ride were from SPU’s cycling club.  They championed the cause of refugees on their college campus leading up to the ride.  Many of their classmates have been matched as Cultural Companions with families like William’s.  Toward the beginning of the ride, another rider noticed William struggling to navigate the gears on a newly borrowed bike.  Once that issue was fixed, William quickly shot to the front of the group.  William’s contagious smile and optimistic demeanor helped motivate the team all along their tough but rewarding ride. 

William,
Thanks for being an inspiration to all of us and helping to give other refugees the best opportunity to find their first job in America.

World Relief invites you to ride with refugees in 2017.  To learn more about SEA-TRI-KAN and how to ride or support a cyclist, please visit www.worldreliefseattle.org/stk

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

The following is a Christmas-time spiritual reflection by World Relief Seattle’s Interim Director, Luke Williams. 

The words of the well-known carol point to one of the primary questions of Christmas: Is there room in my heart for Christ? Particularly in the midst of the busy-ness, anxiety and consumerism of our modern world, so much can crowd out and clutter up the soul space Christ longs to fill.

When Jesus entered the temple and “drove out those who were buying and selling there, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves” (Mark 11:15-17), he quoted two Old Testament passages that have become important for us at World Relief Seattle. He contrasts the vision of “a house of prayer for all nations” found in Isaiah 56 with Jeremiah’s indictment of the “den of robbers” (chapter 7). Both passages speak strongly for inclusion of foreigners and against oppression of the most vulnerable.

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Luke greets a travel-weary refugee family at SeaTac Airport.

Now, I realize that clearing the temple isn’t a typical “Christmas story”. I’m not suggesting that you replace the nativity scene on your mantle with a statuette of Jesus chasing merchants and livestock with whip in hand. Yet, surely this is one key dimension of the incarnation: Jesus came to clean house. Further, in this particular story, I would argue that one reason, among many, that the marketplace in the temple courts so angered Jesus was simply that it got in the way. The outer courts were meant to be the place where God-fearing men and women from all nations could gather to worship the Lord. A bustling market is hardly conducive to the nations gathering for prayer.

Consistent with the special provisions and protections in the Old Testament around treatment of foreigners and other vulnerable people, Jesus consistently taught and acted in ways that challenge us to broaden our welcome. In fact, there are at least to ways in which Jesus personally identified with immigrants. First, before the age of two, he and his family fled to Egypt to escape political violence. Second, in the well-known parable recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus made the startling claim that whatever we do (or do not do) to the “stranger”, we do to him.

This Christmas season, in the spirit of cleaning house, I’m wrestling with a slight variation on the above question: Is there room in my heart and life for Christ to come as a refugee, as a foreigner, as someone very different than myself? As with any question worth pondering, it is best acted upon as well as reflected upon. The spiritual lessons and blessings of cross-cultural friendship can only be known by actually becoming friends. Hospitality is learned by giving and receiving it.

This Christmas, 5 local churches are serving as Good Neighbor Teams, a handful households have opened their doors to be hosts. 45 local volunteers are currently paired with newcomers as Cultural Companions. I trust they will find what my family has found to be true—making room is small sacrifice for the abundance we receive.

From all of us at World Relief Seattle, we wish you a very merry and roomy Christmas!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and heaven and nature sing

12 Days of Christmas Gifts

This year for the Christmas season, World Relief Seattle is inviting you to participate again in our annual 12 Days of Christmas Gifts. Each day between the 1st and the 12th, we will be collecting a different item that will be given directly to new refugee families.  These items range from Soccer Balls to Laptops and they will go a long way in making Seattle feel not just like another place families have fled to, but that this is now home and they are loved and welcomed by the local community here.

Soccer Balls and Coloring Books: Each year for our Refugee Christmas Party, World Relief Seattle gives away around 150 soccer balls to refugee youth who have arrived to Seattle in the last year.  We will also be giving coloring books and coloring supplies as well.
Soccer
Twin Sheet and Comforter Set: As the weather gets colder, we are asking for twin bedding.  Twin mattresses, box springs, bed frames, blankets and sheets are one of our largest needs each year.
Sheets
Rice Cookers: Rice is the staple food for more than 1.6 Billion people around the world particularly in Asia, Latin America, parts of Africa and the Middle East where many of our refugee friends are arriving from.  A high quality rice cooker can free parents up to spend more time with their children rather than spending time over a stove.
Rice Cooker

Cookware Set: A new set of pots and pans will welcome families into their new kitchen as they prepare meals that are nourishing and familiar.

Pots
Diapers…Size 3 and 4:  A new baby brings joy and happiness to a family and a lot of new expenses too.  When we sit down with families and go over monthly budgets, diapers always pop up as a huge expense that parents worry how to afford.
Diapers
Bed Frames:  We admit it.  There is nothing very exciting about twin bed frames.  But these are some of the hardest things for us to find in large quantities at an affordable price for families.  
Bed Frame
Baby Strollers:  Kids grow quickly and just like with the diapers, we have two different sizes of baby strollers on the registry.  With most of the items on the list we also take the gently used version and if you have an old stroller that you would like to donate to a family please contact our donations team at seattleGIK@wr.org or call (253) 277-1121 x233.
Stroller
Microwaves:  The apartments that families first move into have most modern amenities like a refrigerator, an oven and a stove, but they don’t come with microwaves.  A microwave isn’t a necessity, but it sure helps when you want to heat up some injera for an after school snack.
Microwave
Vacuums:  Keeping a home clean is a large part in making a new apartment feel safe and warm.  A vacuum is an essential piece of equipment and common ask for our donations team to find for new families.
Vaccum
Infant and Child Car Seats:  Car seats are a necessary part of modern life and the transportation of newborns and young children.  They are also to put it mildly, very expensive.  Like diapers, strollers and clothing kids also grow out of them very quickly, which is whey we have added a few different sizes to our wish list.
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Pack and Play: A pack and play helps new parents watch over their young children in a safe space.  We know of several refugee mothers who are expecting in the coming weeks and months.  Please purchase this item with the matching mattress and sheet sold separately.
Pack and Play
Laptops:  A computer goes a long way in helping someone become self-sufficient here in the U.S. Kids can use it to do homework. Parents can use it to look for employment.  The whole family can use it to communicate with relatives back in their home country.
laptop
We will be using an Amazon baby registry where you can purchase the items and have them shipped directly to our office.  If you already have a gently used version of the same item we are more than happy to accept those as well via our regular donations team which can be reached at seattleGIK@wr.org or by calling (253) 277-1121 x233.  A full list of all the household goods we furnish a home with can be found here.
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As a nation and as a community this holiday season, let us say to the refugee & the stranger among us: Welcome. There is Room. We wish you peace. 

Welcome a refugee family by making a gift to World Relief Seattle today.


When Hussein, Sabeeha, and their six children arrived to SeaTac Airport in August, it was the culmination of a years-long journey that spanned from Syria to Norway and many places in-between. IMG_5000.jpg

The journey began in their home in Baghdad, Iraq. Hussein and his seven brothers ran their own construction factories. “My family was so rich in Baghdad,” remembers Hussein.

When the US began its offensive in Iraq in 2003, the brothers were contracted to do construction projects for the American military, putting them in danger of retaliation from groups in opposition to the US. Two of Hussein’s brothers were killed by militants.

Fleeing the dangers that had claimed his brothers’ lives, Hussein brought his family from Baghdad to Syria, where they stayed for three years. It’s a period that Hussein doesn’t talk about much. “When we were in Syria we felt hungry many, many days,” he says.

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Seeking greater opportunity for his family, Hussein made the heart-wrenching decision to leave his wife and young children behind. He hoped to reach Europe and, upon establishing a safe life, to eventually bring them to join him.

Hussein found himself on an overcrowded boat from Turkey to Greece for three days. He remembers well the fear he felt in that moment: “You choose between two points. There is death here and death there. I just preferred the sea more than to return to Iraq and the horror”.

Surviving the harrowing boat ride, Hussein made it to Norway where he spent more than three years trying to gain legal residency. His efforts came to naught, though, when the Norwegian government deported him back to Iraq in November 2011.

Hussein reunited with his family in Baghdad, but his presence made it unsafe for them to stay. Again they fled, this time north to Turkey. Stuck between a homeland that couldn’t protect them and a neighboring country hesitant to welcome them, Hussein and Sabeeha felt desperate.

“Every night at that time, I just cried inside my bedroom,” he remembers. After several days waiting and a night spent on the streets at the border, the family was granted entry to Turkey.IMG_4963.jpg

Here they stayed for four more years, waiting on the extensive security screening process required for resettlement into the US. Sabeeha gave birth to their sixth child–a spunky little girl.  The older children learned Turkish and studied in school.

Finally, they received their visas to come to America.

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“I’ve spent a big period of my life looking for shelter,” says Hussein. “This is the end of my mission. I started my life from the beginning again.”

The family’s new life in America has been marked by struggle and generosity. The shortage of housing in King County meant that the family spent weeks waiting to secure an apartment they could afford. While they waited, they were warmly welcomed into the home of an American family who learned about World Relief through their church.

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Today, Hussein and his family are beginning to gain their footing in their new homeland. The teenagers are attending school and learning English. The oldest son, Omar, has a job doing auto detailing at the airport. The entire family is enjoying the security and warmth of a new apartment.

World Relief comes alongside newcomers like Hussein & Sabeeha, helping them learn English, get jobs, and become thriving members of their new community. 

Will you extend a warm welcome to a Seattle-area refugee family this holiday season? Give online today.