June 20, 2014

Finding Security in a New Place

Maher Al Fayyadh enjoys a moment together with his daughter. Photo: Melissa Engle Photography

If you live anyplace outside a war zone the idea that you or your family might fall victim to a car bomb or some other attack likely is not a real concern for you.  But if you were living in Baghdad, Iraq at the height of the violence there security might well be a big concern.

It was for Maher Al Fayyadh, an Iraqi immigrant now living in Lancaster, Pa.  He says his departure from the embattled city was closely related to the security problems in Baghdad.  “In Baghdad the security situation was bad and it made me fear for myself, my family and my kids.  Every day we think we are going to be victims of one of those car bombs.” 

Al Fayyadh was resettled as a refugee in 2010 by the CWS Immigration and Refugee Program office in Lancaster, Pa., which provides legal and other services to immigrants and refugees.  It was not an easy transition for a man who had been a high school chemistry teacher and manager of the graphic design department at a local newspaper.  The search for similar work in Lancaster was complicated by his lack of a work history here and his still-developing English language skills.  But Maher made a decision that has served him well.

“It was so difficult to find a job so I decided to start with an entry level job and work my way up,” Alfayyadh says.  Eventually, he found work downloading online orders at a local medical supply company and he now supervises an entire department.  “I started very basic and now I have moved up to manage people I used to work with.”

The job is quite different from Alfayyadh’s work in Iraq, but he sees a lesson for himself and for others in his rise from the entry level job to a management position: “If you challenge yourself; if you like to study more and work hard to better yourself, you can.”

At the heart of 35-year-old Alfayyad’s dreams and aspirations for life in the United States is the safety of his family—wife, Hamsa, daughter, Mariam, 6 and son Ahmed, 5, in the face of the violence in Baghdad.   “I was looking to find a better future for my kids.  I want them to have a chance to grow up healthy and to get educations. This is why I finally decided it was time for us to move.”

Several factors contributed to the family’s successful resettlement in Lancaster. 

The CWS office, which works with churches, organizations and individuals to provide refugees and immigrants with the support of a hospitable community, proved to be a great help.

A team of volunteers from Neffsville Mennonite Church in Lancaster, which sponsored the Alfayyadh family, “answered our questions and told us about the community and did many other things like helping us to get to doctor’s appointments,” Alfayyadh says.

And Alfayyadh’s two brothers, already living in the United States, provided advice, support and, importantly, the comfort of family. 

Against the distant backdrop of renewed fighting in Iraq, Alfayyadh, his wife and their children are at a safe remove from the violence.  “I am always thankful and pleased for my life now," he says.  “I feel I am safe.  I can work and when my kids go to school they are happy and they get an education.”

Starting over in a new place is filled with uncertainty and difficulties, as Alfayyadh is well aware. 

“You can never really imagine or picture life in a new country a new home or community  You can’t really draw a picture or compare what you imagined and what you see when you get there.  There will always be challenges but I am the type of person who likes those challenges because any challenge I go through definitely makes me a better person.”