The Case of the Al Khazraji Family

Al Khazraji Family

 

By Deidre Harrison, Program Manager of Refugee Services in Savannah

Can a case file truly tell you the story of a life? Last year, Lutheran Services of Georgia prepared to receive a family of three that was living in Lebanon after fleeing their home country of Iraq. Although the story found in their case file, rife with violence and war, resembled the stories of many LSG clients, the Al Khazraji family was unique. The family’s employment history included a detailed account of the artistic and professional skills that both Sarmad and his wife Nemat acquired overseas. While living in Iraq, Sarmad studied film and theatre and Nemat earned a degree in fashion design. Sarmad directed plays and brought international scripts to his beloved theatre in Baghdad. During the Iraq wars, he received awards for short documentaries highlighting the effects of war on civilians. Sarmad approached his career with an open mind and a desire to welcome strangers from different countries.

In August 2013, LSG resettled Sarmad, Nemat, and their 8-year-old son Nadim in Savannah. At the time, the Iraqi community was still budding and many families found social adjustment very challenging. Yet Sarmad’s enthusiasm to help others and build friendships with local residents made him a role model to other Iraqi clients. With special consideration by LSG staff, the Al Khazraji family agreed to become the first refugee family resettled on Wilmington Island, a small community that had amenities but no refugee community. Both the agency and the Al Khazraji family took a risk that produced exemplary results, showcasing the power of community integration. Nadim excelled at May Howard Elementary School in his first three months and quickly made friends within and outside of the ESOL program. Sarmad befriended local artists at Savannah’s famous City Market. Within three months of arrival, Sarmad and Nemat both accepted jobs at Kroger where they work rotating shifts to mitigate childcare.

After their resettlement, the Al Khazraji family overcame challenges that many refugee families encounter. They learned to read and write in English by attending Savannah Technical College’s ESL classes and practicing with their son. They overcame the Savannah heat and sand gnats by learning to use sunscreen and bug spray. Most importantly, Sarmad and Nemat invested their personal time to help other refugees learn how to adapt to their new lives. In 2014, Sarmad and his wife have already assisted LSG staff with public transportation orientations and provided social support to new families resettled on Wilmington Island.

Drawing on his passion for art and film, Sarmad hopes to film a documentary about how refugees’ lives are positively transformed. He hopes that his talents can be used to communicate the shared hope of many people. Clearly, the case of the Al Khazraji family has yet to be closed.

New Country, New Home

When Bal and Aita arrived in Atlanta at 1:00 a.m. on a Tuesday summer morning with their three-year-old son Abishek, they were exhausted from their long journey. They had been traveling from Nepal, where they had lived as refugees after leaving Bhutan, their country of birth, many years earlier. After several long flights, they just wanted to sleep.

Thanks to some folks from Valparaiso University, Bal, Aita, and Abishek could go straight to their new home, crawl into bed, and sleep the night away. A few days earlier, on Saturday, June 8, members of the Valparaiso University Alumni Association and the Valparaiso University Guild drove over to Clarkston to set up an apartment for this family from Bhutan. When the volunteers arrived at the apartment, it was empty. Three hours later, it looked like a home.

In the weeks before the apartment set-up on June 8, the group had set up a storage unit in the parking lot of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Stone Mountain so that people could donate furniture and other household items before they took them over to Clarkston. Valparaiso alumni and friends across Atlanta responded generously. People from Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Grace Lutheran Church in Atlanta, and Rock of Ages Lutheran Church brought extra furniture for the Bhutanese family and food for their pantry.

At the end of the morning, after the crew had hauled the furniture inside and arranged it properly, one of LSG’s new staff members, Cynthia McGuinness, popped in with a surprise. In addition to providing four chairs for the family’s dining room, her two children brought stuffed animals and toys for three-year-old Abishek. While growing up in the refugee camp in Nepal, Abishek probably never had a stuffed animal or toy to play with. Thanks to Cynthia’s children, he now has many!

The volunteers were delighted to be able to welcome a family to the United States. “We had a really great time helping out,” said Ashley, one of the Valparaiso alumnae. LSG thanks these volunteers from Valparaiso University who helped set up the apartment, all the donors who contributed the furniture, and PODS for providing the storage unit. If you would like to set up an apartment for refugees with your company, congregation, or other group, please contact Melanie Johnson at mjohnson@lsga.org or 678-686-9619.

LSG Welcomes Refugee Family from Iraq to Savannah!

On June 6, the Savannah office welcomed an Iraqi family of 6. The husband, Ali Majmaie, is very skilled with welding and manufacturing work. His wife, Sahira Saleem, aspires to be a teacher in the US. They have four children, three sons and one daughter. The oldest son wants to go to welding school, and the youngest children are very happy to live in Savannah and play at the many public parks. Upon their arrival in the US, the family made new friends with Savannah residents at the Savannah Islamic Center, enrolled into English classes at Savannah Tech, and received employment training at the LSG office.