Ashmi and Ayan: March Fourteenth, Two Thousand Twelve

Written by: Stephen Johnson, World Relief Employment Specialist

“What is today?” Ashmi asked. She had a certain smile on her face that, even after 6 months of knowing her, I had not seen before.

“Today is March 14th,” I replied.

“I will always remember this day,” she assured me.

Today, Ashmi and her husband, Bhutanese refugees from Nepal, were hired at separate hotels an hour and a half bus ride from their humble apartment just south of Seattle. (For resettled refugees, and countless other new-Americans, distance is often measured in the time it takes on public transportation.)

As an Employment Specialist for World Relief, one of the highlights of my job is the day when refugees become employees. Less than one percent of refugees worldwide make it to a third country. Most end up staying in the country to which they initially flee, which is usually not much better than what they left behind. For individuals and families who have survived systems of oppression and confronted tremendous barriers, getting your first job in a relatively safe place can seem like winning the lottery. I like to think that I play a part in the puzzle, but I am also certain that in this economic environment, employment is truly an act of God. Alhamdulillah, praise be to God, as our Arabic-speaking friends often remind us.

Only two hours earlier, we were preparing at the office before we left, going over a list of practice interview questions that this particular employer has asked in the past.

“What does task mean?” “What is attention to detail?” “Should I sit or should I stand during the interview?” I did my best to answer as many questions as possible. If this manager likes these two, maybe she will want to hire more refugees in the future.

As we walked to the car, Ashmi could not hide her ample apprehension. “My heart is beating so quickly—ninety beats per minute,” she laughed. Today, I would take Ashmi and Ayan, a Somali woman who recently arrived from Ethiopia, to interviews for housekeeping positions. Two stoic women of the same age and demeanor, yet their stories remained worlds apart. Despite the disparities, they seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company.

“Do not worry, we can help each other,” Ayan assured Ashmi.

There were two interviews. The first was a pre-screen with someone from Human Resources, at which they both did very well. Just smile and nod, I’d joked with them both before. The second interview was slightly more difficult. The manager spoke quickly, with a sense of urgency that every housekeeping supervisor seems to develop over time. I did my best to “translate” complex questions into simple sentences that they could understand.

Alhamdulillah. They were both hired on the spot.

“March 14th, 2012,” Ashmi pronounced each syllable. “Today, we are so happy.”

From my rearview mirror, I could see both of them surreptitiously wiping small tears from their eyes on our short drive home. Today, I was a reminded that I will never fully know where my client’s have been or what they have gone through to get here. I will also never fully know the impact of our work – the privilege of being a part of God’s Kingdom here on earth. Today was truly a significant day for me as well.

“Thank you to America, and thank you to the American people.”

“Thank you to God also,” Ashmi added.

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