We had the opportunity to meet with three lovely, memorable families today.
As we entered the first apartment, we were met by four pairs of very large brown eyes staring at us. The four little children of the first family were hungrily eating their breakfast when we arrived and didn’t pause as we entered! The children are two girls, ages 6 and 2, and two boys, ages 5 and 3. All the children were darling. The family lived an affluent life in Iraq where the father was a salesman and the mother stayed home with the children. They left Iraq because of threats against them based on religious sectarianism and because of the deaths of many in the mother’s family from a missile strike. They fled to Syria for two years. Life in Syria for Iraqi refugees is not easy; they are not able to work legally and their children are not eligible for free education. While there, the father worked twenty hour days doing the clothes trading and also cooking in a restaurant. When the threats followed them to Syria in April of 2009, they realized they had to come to the US. They have very little in their apartment.
The next family was equally charming and we were enchanted with the bright, polite, cheerful and friendly children, a boy (9) and two girls (8, 3). The father was a barber when they lived in Iraq but faced persecution and harm from fundamentalists right when the war started for being someone who cut hair and trimmed beards. He was kidnapped but escaped and fled to Syria. The mother then followed with the two oldest children. They lived in Syria for five years where the youngest child was born. They arrived in the US just one month ago to join the members of the mother’s family who arrived in Phoenix one year ago. While in Syria, these children were able to go to school so they speak and understand a few words of English. They are very anxious to start school here once they get their inoculations. A particularly cute image we saw was of the three year old little girl casually leaning with one arm against her father’s leg, very comfortable in that security. These children, like those in the first family, seem very bright and would take full advantage of any teaching aids we have to give them.
The third family is a young couple, married only fourteen months, from Iran. They fled religious persecution in their home country because they are members of the Baha’i faith. The followers of that religion in Iran, who number about 350,000, have faced persecution for many years and under current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their trials have worsened with many being imprisoned and killed. This couple first went to Turkey for one year and then came here with an “anchor,” meaning family members who were already living here. They have now moved out on their own and need help. For one month they have been in their apartment with no furnishings; they have no tables, chairs or bed so they eat, sit and sleep on the floor. In Iran, the young man was a jeweler and the young lady was a dentist’s assistant. Both would love to go to school, a privilege denied to them in Iran because of their religion.