Striving Toward Dreams: Maryam’s Story
At home in Baghdad, Iraq, Maryam’s* parents had always told her that education came first. From a young age she was a straight-A student. But when Maryam was in eighth grade, her life was torn apart and her education interrupted.
After war broke out in 2003, Maryam’s family was targeted because they were members of a minority group. In 2009 a few armed men broke into Maryam’s home and attacked her mother who was pregnant with twins. When the men left, Maryam ran out into the street and began screaming for help. A taxi driver stopped and took them to the hospital but Maryam’s mother lost the babies.
The family fled the country and escaped to Turkey with only the clothes on their back. Maryam’s father found odd jobs. Maryam tried to go to a local school but because she didn’t understand the Turkish language, she failed out. So instead, she began volunteering with a non-profit organization where she taught English and Arabic to refugee and orphan children.
In 2015, almost four years after applying for refugee status in Turkey, the family was approved to live permanently in the United States and was partnered with World Relief DuPage/Aurora (WRDA) who arranged their resettlement. World Relief volunteers helped the family adjust to life in America. They soon met with an employment specialist at WRDA to talk about how the family would support themselves.
“That’s when they told me I would have to go to work to support my family,” says Maryam, who was about to turn 18. Maryam’s parents could not work because of injuries from the attack and temporary health issues. “I was shocked. I never thought I would work at that young age. I had planned to go to medical school and become a doctor.”
But World Relief is equipped to help refugees like Maryam prepare to handle this new responsibility. Maryam immediately enrolled in WRDA’s 6-week Job Readiness ESL Class (“Job Class”) where she learned the job and English skills she would need to join the U.S. workforce.
Maryam was the youngest student in her higher level class…and the only woman! At first she was intimidated to be surrounded by older men from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But they greeted her warmly and made her feel at home while giving her confidence that she, too, could become a provider for her family.
“Job Class helped me to understand what it is like to have a job,” says Maryam. “Everything that I hear at work, I remember it from when I learned these things in Job Class – shift work, pay stubs, how to clock in, how to talk to my manager. All of these things I was prepared to handle.”
Maryam met often with her World Relief employment specialist, who helped her write a resume and apply for jobs. She was thrilled when a local company hired her as a machine operator. The job was hard and Maryam was scared to be away from her parents but she was motivated to care for her family.
“I never felt bad for myself,” says Maryam. “I wanted to help my family, so I had to go to work.”
After a few months, Maryam’s father was cleared by his doctor to begin working and found a job at the same company. Once the family had two wage earners, Maryam started to think about going back to school. She enrolled in classes at the College of DuPage to begin preparing for her GED. She also found a better paying job that offered flexible hours that fit her classes.
Maryam dreams again to become a doctor; to travel to the Middle East and Africa and provide healthcare to refugees and others. Her education was put on hold for over five years but thanks to her own determination and the volunteers, companies, and donors who make services to refugees like Maryam possible, she is back on track.
*”Maryam” is a representative name to protect the identity and family of the woman whose story is told.
Are you looking for a chance to escape the Black Friday door busting and give something back? On Tuesday, November 29, World Relief will once again participate in #GivingTuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving that has been set aside as a time to step back from Black Friday and Cyber Monday Christmas shopping and instead focus on others in need.
On #GivingTuesday, World Relief invites the community to donate the Welcome Kits of household and food items that we give to newly arrived refugees. “The Welcome Kit is our tangible hospitality,” Jamie Daling, WRDA’s volunteer services manager explains. Because of their refugee journey, “a [refugee] family hasn’t had many of these items for a very long time and now that they’re going into permanent housing, these things are greatly appreciated.”
Welcome Kits are a great way for anyone who wants to support refugees to not only provide useful items but to also express their support. “What that says [to refugees] is that the neighbors around them actually care that their child has a blanket, that they have a bed to sleep in tonight,” Daling says. “And then the community gets a way of saying, not only do you have value and we want to welcome you but we have something of value… to help them feel welcome, feel secure, to help them feel that they have a place here.”
Donors can either buy new items or donate gently used items from their homes. “We can go to our own houses and shop for these items or go with our children to the dollar store or a resale shop.” Daling says. “I think it makes for a really great opportunity for our kids to see that we want to be generous and we want to be giving.”
Anyone interested in donating Welcome Kits on #GivingTuesday can visit our website to find a list of Welcome Kit items, local drop off locations, and a link to where you can purchase a Welcome Kit on Amazon.com and have it shipped directly to World Relief.
#GivingTuesday is a social media movement started in 2012 by the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York. According to their website, “#GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities.”
Haiti in the Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew
Earlier this month, category 4 hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti, leaving behind incredible devastation. Haiti is in need of our prayers and our donations. Yet, as country director Joseph Bataille explains, God has prepared Haitian churches to respond and rebuild. He writes this in a recent blog post:
“Late last week, I participated in a meeting with more than 200 Haitian church leaders in the capital. The purpose was to join together collectively to reach out to the affected areas with short, mid, and long term relief efforts. We had similar conversations with our partners in the capital. All of them excitedly agreed that the primary responsibility for relief must go to the local church. In Belle Anse, church leaders are assessing the damages together, while reflecting on ways to help those who were hit the hardest. Immediately after the storm, some even worked overtime to finish a home that they had begun to build months earlier for a single mother of three. After many months of being stalled by various obstacles, they finished the project in only a few days.
Haiti has a lot of good things. The best of all these things are its people. Haiti is gold. The Haitian people themselves are diamonds—hard-pressed but not hardened, and refined by many years of adversity. When they pull together, nothing is impossible to them.
The local church is full of such gems, and across the country, near to and far from the disaster, they are pulling together. They are helping one another and looking out for the weakest among them. World Relief is privileged to know some of the best of them. They are a light to their communities. World Relief is working closely with these leaders as they help their communities to recover shelters, gardens, livelihoods, and autonomy. But we refuse to let our work to be the basket that covers and hides the goodness and the light of God’s love that is already present. Rather, we are working in such a way to put that light on the lamp-stand, where it belongs, that the world will see their good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).
The nation is full of people with hearts of servants who are more than ready and more than willing to carry the weight of their vulnerable neighbors. Our job in this time is to help them to find the resources that match the largeness of their hearts and to equip them with skills and knowledge to build back better. Our mission is to help them to accomplish their mission.”