When you think of a dangerous job, what do you imagine? Firefighter? Miner? Do you imagine a painter smoothing grey paint over the side of a building? Neither did Mohammad. He thought he was doing well for himself. The Iraqi father of four had gotten a good job painting barracks for the American military and was providing a good life for his family. But as Iraq plunged into civil war and the Gulf War escalated, his job quickly made him a target for violence. As insurgents hunted his family and harmed his brother, the message was clear – you’re next.
“We fled for our lives and became refugees,” he says of that time. “We were determined to make it to America.”
A Different Place
After years in a Syrian refugee camp, Mohammad’s family was selected for a refugee resettlement program – one run by Heartland Alliance. They thought their troubles were over. They’d raise their children in a safe place and be healthy, not always looking over their shoulder. But once they made it here to Chicago, they realized just how much of a toll their difficult journey had taken on their health.
“I thought we would be alright once we made it to America, but our old life haunted us,” he says. We still struggled terribly. Coming to a place so different is not easy.”
The trauma of his experiences in Iraq left Mohammad with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as crippling anxiety and depression. Where he once worked tirelessly to provide for his family, he was now all but homebound.
Just as they always had though, the family banded together – and the support they needed was there in Heartland Alliance. For Mohammad to heal mentally and physically from the trauma of the war, he received comprehensive mental and physical healthcare and job training, preparation, and placement. To better learn the language of her new homeland, his wife Jiana connected with a local community college, where she’s studying English. But perhaps most important to Mohammad and Jiana though is the support their daughters received.
“[Heartland Alliance] helped Raghda, Randa and Tabarak enroll in school and prepared them to go to school in America – they helped them learn English and to meet other children who are refugees,” he says. “This is such an incredible gift they’ve given us.”