Category Archives: Client Spotlight

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


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.


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.
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.


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. 

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


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.


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.


“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.


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.

Veterans Day — Sami’s story

When Sami talks about what motivated him to work with the U.S. military, one thing jumps out.

“I was interested to see what an American guy looked like. Are they like us?” he wondered.

You see, although he worked for the U.S. military, Sami isn’t American; he’s Afghan.

Sami (right) interpreted for the French and American military in Afghanistan

Sami (right) interpreted for the French and American military in Afghanistan

Sami learned English as a teenager and spent two years as an interpreter for French and American troops in Afghanistan. His work went far beyond just interpreting, though. Sami was often present in dangerous active combat conditions; his cultural knowledge helped American troops avoid even more treacherous situations.

For Sami and other interpreters, though, their work came at a cost beyond the battlefield. After he finished his service, Sami began receiving suspicious calls from unknown people asking for his address. One night, as he returned home from the gym, Sami was brutally attacked by three people and nearly died.

To protect these vulnerable veterans, in 2009 the U.S. began issuing Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghans who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government. Seven years later, 12,000 Afghan veterans—not to mention their families—are stuck in limbo and in danger as infighting in Congress leaves the program in jeopardy (NY Times).


For Sami, the wait to arrive to America lasted 18 months. Despite his long and traumatic path, he arrived to SeaTac Airport in July, eager to contribute to his new homeland.

Sami hit the ground running. Alongside the World Relief employment team, he found work within two months of his arrival to America.

“Sami’s personable and communicates well,” says World Relief employment specialist, Ellie White. “You can really see him succeed because of the way he interacts with people.”

Even as he builds a new life here, the repercussions of Sami’s U.S. military experience are still with him. He says that his greatest fear is that someone will take revenge on his three younger brothers who remain in Afghanistan.

Despite this worry, Sami is enjoying his new life in America. In his free time, he likes listening to classical guitar music and reading self-development books to continue to better himself. He’s already making plans to study accounting to one day become a CPA. Ultimately, he hopes that a degree will enable him to again bridge the gap between his first and second homelands.

“My life purpose is that Afghanistan should have mutual strategic business interests not just with the U.S. but with the rest of the world.”

Sami arrived to the Seattle Area in July

As we take time this Veterans Day to recognize the brave people who risk everything for our protection, I’d invite you to think about Sami and the thousands of others who are still in danger for their service to the U.S. military. What they lack in a common nationality, these men and women share in a mutual cause. As Sami put it:

“I thank the brave U.S. families who sent their sons [and daughters] who died in Afghanistan. If they are thankful for our service, we are more thankful to their sons [and daughters]. We are in one line against the same danger—fundamentalism. “

You can help welcome Afghans and Iraqis who have served alongside our forces by advocating for their families overseas who are still in danger.  Our hope is for them to be allowed to join their family members here in safety.  Visit to learn how you can help.

Christmas and July

World Relief Seattle’s family Christmas card this year features Mai, Salai, and the show-stealer, July. Take a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to spend an afternoon with this big-spirited family.

Photos by Avery Milo, Helm & Harbor Photography

The first thing I was struck by when I entered Mai and Salai’s apartment was the shoe rack. I was caught off guard by the volume of shoes—all different colors, all different styles and, seemingly, almost all women’s shoes. Salai was quick to point out that only a few pairs were his.

I took the shoe rack as an invitation to take off my shoes and stay a while. Avery and I stepped into a simple living room in Mai and Salai’s Seatac apartment. The family moved from Kent a few months ago in order to be closer to Salai’s work as a cook at the airport. I’d only met them once before our visit, but this was enough time to know that theirs was a story we wanted to share. Plus they have a very cute 3-year-old.


I had a list of interview questions prepared, but as these things go, we ended up just having a conversation. Mai, Salai and I talked about topics like English and education in the U.S. while Avery tried to get July to hold still long enough to take a picture. A very tough task, since July was busy preparing a meal of plastic toy fruit, with an empty 5-Hour Energy bottle standing in for the drink.


As we spoke, I was reminded anew of how irrepressible refugees are. Here are two young people who fled their homes to avoid being forced into unpaid labor by their government, all for coming from the “wrong” ethnic and religious groups. They moved from the Burmese countryside to the city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where they lived for 7 years working illegally in restaurants to make ends meet. Mai told me she waitressed until she was eight months pregnant with July.


But I was also reminded that these folks are fascinating, with goals, hobbies, and lives that are full, despite all that’s been lost. Salai proudly showed off his photography gear and pictures to us. As a self-taught photographer, he was excited to hear about how Avery learned the art. He also shared his cooking skills with us in the form of delicious homemade pork and potatoes. Mai spoke about her love for cosmetics and expressed her hope to turn this from a passion to a profession in the future.


July operated throughout most of the afternoon blissfully oblivious to what the adults were up to—except when a camera was pointed at her, at which point she made faces or looked the other way. The rest of the time, she busied herself with “preparing lunch” and watching kids’ YouTube videos in English and Spanish.


It has been our great pleasure at World Relief to work with this small family, helping them to find their feet and begin to succeed in their new life together in Washington. To support others like Mai, Salai, and July as they begin their new lives in Western Washington, please make a donation to World Relief Seattle’s refugee programs. Your dollars help our newest neighbors establish their first home in America, learn English, get jobs and connect to their local community.


World Relief Investment Coordinator, Andrew, in a futile attempt to get July to look at the camera.

The Man Behind the Bun

“Wahoo!” Screaming and dancing, then 25-year-old Abdulrahman rejoiced with outstanding joy. Turning on the light and throwing open his bedroom window he shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice echoing throughout the dark, tightly-stacked apartment complex in Sakarya, Turkey. Silenced by an unexpected knock at the door, he answered it apprehensively. There stood two policemen. When asked what all the noise was about, he answered, “I am going to Seattle, Washington with World Relief!”

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For two years Abdulrahman, his wife Zeena and their baby daughter waited for this phone call: the news that after fleeing their home country of Iraq they would finally be coming to the United States to start their new lives. For Abdulrahman, this is the ticket he was waiting for to get started on all of his dreams he had spent the last two years thinking up.

World Relief_AbdulR-2

Fast forward eight months to the present, Abdulrahman is a certified nursing assistant, a full-time student at Everest College, security guard at Star Protection Agency, husband, father and friend to many. With the help of World Relief’s federal Matching Grant program, he was able to fund his CNA certification and find a security job that would accommodate his school schedule and cover his living expenses. At first glance, he may appear to be like any other Seattle hipster, his hair tied into a “man-bun”, finely groomed beard, skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. What many people don’t know is “the man behind the bun.”

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From the time he was young, Abdulrahman idolized the American soldier as his childhood hero. He began hanging around Americans from the time U.S. troops started patrolling the streets of Baghdad. By the time he was 17, he applied to work as an interpreter for the U.S. military. Ultimately rejected for the age requirement, he applied again and was accepted on his 18th birthday. He spent the next four pivotal years of his life working alongside Americans in combat situations, learning U.S. military culture and ethics. In his words, “They taught me so many things. They helped make me who I am today.” Following his years of service to the U.S. Abdulrahman pursued a degree in Law. Integrating his experience of American culture with his Iraqi community was difficult. Finally, on the day of his final exams to complete his degree, his family was threatened, and forced to flee to Turkey for safety.

He could not finish his Law degree after nearly four years of investment. His undeniable intelligence and refusal to give up on making something of his life motivated him to search for new dreams. He capitalized on the opportunity to work in a pharmacy, teaching himself medical terminology by reading the labels on pill boxes. When granted passage to the U.S. he came with the intention of pursuing education and a career in the medical field.

While Abdulrahman can jive with the best of them in American slang and lingo, medical vocabulary is a different story. And yet, immediately after his arrival he began a certification class as a CNA and less than two months later had enrolled full time as a Medical Assistant student at Everest College in Renton. He now utilizes his phone and Google translator to interpret unknown words and concepts from English to Arabic during class lectures. He spends extra time at home memorizing words and definitions in English while simultaneously learning the concept in Arabic. When asked about his studies he notes, “Demonstrations and clinicals are easy for me.” Textbook assignments are twice the work.

Abdulrahman came with a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish when he came to the United States. He was not naïve in thinking it would be easy. Like anyone else new to the country, he has faced definite challenges that come along with confronting a new culture and place so different from your own. As Abdulrahman says, from a lesson he learned while working with the U.S. military, “Put yourself in the hurricane and be a part of it. Stay calm and don’t freak out.” In the midst of a whole new world that is swirling around you, Abdulrahman advises all newcomers to the U.S. to have a dream. Stay motivated! It’s not easy, but not impossible. Unforgettable moments of joy await!

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“We Were Like Birds in Cages”

Introducing one of Kent’s Newest Residents: Robika Noori
Written by Sofia Jarvis – AmeriCorps Employment Specialist

“When I want to do something, I will do it,” Robika Noori says.  At thirty-three years old, Robika has moved further away from home and done more to advance women’s rights than most of us will in a lifetime. She agreed to let me spend some time speaking with her at the Green River College library, about her past, her career advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan, and what her transition to life in the U.S. has been like.

Robika at work out in the community back in Afghanistan

Robika at work out in the community back in Afghanistan

Robika was twelve when she and her family moved from their home in Kabul to a smaller village in the North of Afghanistan because of the war. Despite the increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan, Robika finished high school and graduated with top grades in her class. Her plan was to continue on to university and pursue a degree in engineering, but at the time, the Taliban had gained power in Afghanistan. During this time, Robika explains, it was nearly impossible for both men and women to study because of the increased restrictions on universities in Afghanistan. As security decreased in the North, Robika and her family moved back to Kabul. She looks back on this as a difficult time. “We were like birds in cages,” she says. Women were required to wear a burka, and could not leave the house to go to school, to work, or to go shopping.

In 2003, there was a change in government and it was once again possible for women to be active outside the home. When she began looking into attending university, she found that the records of her high school education had been destroyed, making it impossible for her to continue her studies in Afghanistan. Because of this, Robika decided to take a job at a local NGO instead.  Robika continued on to work for several different projects focused on increasing women’s equality.  She worked as a gender auditor for local NGO’s to ensure that women had access to the resources they needed to work there. She explains, “You should have, for example, day care for them. You should have restrooms for them. What should you do if a woman has, for example, pregnancy, holidays, these things. We had a special gender plan for them.”  In all her positions she worked closely with municipalities, communities, and local elders to design projects with a vision of gender equality in mind.

Robika giving a presentation back in Afghanistan

Robika giving a presentation back in Afghanistan

Robika’s determination and courage helped her to quickly work her way up within the world of NGOs in Afghanistan. Yet, security remained a constant concern for her and her family because of the work she was doing. She explains that there were many people who were against her work, and she had to take precautions to keep herself and her family safe. “Every time we moved to a province, we changed our car. I wore the burka, I wore different clothes than I do now. The same [clothes] like the women who lived in the village. For [each] different province I had different clothes.”

As a result of these many precautions, Robika and her family were able to remain safe in Afghanistan for several years. One day though, Robika stepped into a taxi and the driver recognized her. He said that he knew her, and named the organization she had been working for, where her house was, and what her salary was. Though the organization where Robika was working at the time took measures to keep her safe, Robika did not feel comfortable knowing that the taxi driver, and possibly others, knew about her and her family and where they lived. In January 2014, Robika and her family once again moved back to Kabul, this time to begin the application process for a visa to the United States.

In September 2014, Robika, her husband, and their three young children were able to come to the U.S. They first moved to California where Robika’s aunt lives, but after a few months the high rent, lack of jobs, and distance from the local resettlement agency lead them to make another move, this time to Kent, WA, where Robika became connected to World Relief. Through World Relief, Robika was able to get help with problems like health insurance and finding a job. During the time she spent at English and job classes at World Relief, she met a network of Afghan women. Robika enrolled as a student at Green River College. “College was a dream [I had] when I was in school,” she says. After enrolling at Green River College, she quickly found a work study job as an office assistant. Her days are now filled with both working and studying at Green River. She is currently taking prerequisites and will continue on to major in Business Management.

Robika and her family now living in Kent, WA

Robika and her family now living in Kent, WA

Though Robika likes the Seattle area, she hopes to eventually move back to Afghanistan to continue the work she left there. She says that, “If the security of Afghanistan is good, I will go and I will start work for women again. It is my dream to work for women.” Laughing, she adds that, “my kids, they say, ‘If you go back, we will not go with you, because here is very good.’ “ If Robika is unable to return to Afghanistan (or if her children convince her to stay), she hopes to work as an advisor for a health and human service organization such as DSHS or World Relief to help them better serve the new demographic of Afghans arriving in the area.

Wherever Robika Noori may find herself, it is clear that what she is dedicated to advancing the rights of women. Because of the lack of gender equality and opportunities that exist for women in Afghanistan, Robika says that it is sometimes difficult for Afghan women who have recently come to the U.S. “They think…we can’t,” she says, and continues on to express the need for vocational training for women so that they can play a role in the economy of their families.

Though Robika hopes to someday return home to Afghanistan and continue working for women there, it is clear that she is doing her best– and succeeding– at making a home for herself in the United States as well. She speaks confidently and quickly in English, and her schedule is fully booked with school, work, and interpreting. She helps fellow Afghans whenever she can, and is quick to respond with advice or explanations when asked questions about the Afghan culture. We can count ourselves lucky to have a confident and community-oriented woman like Robika Noori as a resident of Kent.

If you would like to join Robika in empowering Afghan woman toward equality and self-sufficiency, we encourage you to help out in an evening ESL talk time program providing one-on-one tutors for Afghan mothers who are looking to improve the language and cultural competency skills.  For more information please email

Like Earth and Sky

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“Like Earth and Sky”
These were the words that came to mind when Abbas tried to compare his first job in the US to his previous job as an interpreter for the US Army in Afghanistan. Abbas arrived in the US just months ago as part of the United States SIV program, granting refugee rights to individuals who’ve worked with the U.S. government and military in Afghanistan.

“My previous job put me at risk… [now] I feel safe.” While the contrast between his new and former employment are just one example of the many changes facing people experiencing resettlement in a new country, Abbas has found stability and community in his new job.

Abbas works as a Driver Helper for Quality Custom Distribution Services, delivering supplies to Starbucks locations throughout King County. He prides himself on having memorized the specifications of each box in the truck, enabling him to load and unload as efficiently as possible. It’s no wonder why drivers at QCD request Abbas to be their ride along helper.Abbas 1

Abbas is quickly adopting one of Seattle’s greatest icons, Starbucks Coffee, as his own. His hard work has earned him the respect of baristas throughout the city, and is occasionally rewarded with a drink of his choice. “Venti vanilla bean Frappuccino!”

Abbas has enjoyed the opportunity his job has provided to become familiarized with the city, improve his English through interaction with coworkers, and most importantly, get settled in his new life in America. “I don’t want to go anywhere else,” he says.

Abbas’ new job did not come without challenges. The bus schedule did not align with his graveyard shift, requiring that he wait more than 2 hours after finishing work for the bus to arrive. Abbas stuck it out, and fortunately World Relief was able to donate a car to Abbas and his family to ease his commute. His exceptional work ethic and success as a team player has paved the way for further job placements for refugees at QCD after him.Abbas 5

For Abbas, the difference between his former life and newfound community in the US can best be described as, “like Earth and sky.” While there are certain challenges awaiting all newcomers to the US, Abbas advises, “Don’t quit. Keep going. Be patient with the job.” Stability and hope are sure to come.

If you are interested in learning more about how you, your family or your church can come alongside refugees, we have a seminar series happening in Seattle at University Presbyterian Church June 3rd, 10th, and 17th.