Amer Alfayadh’s life in Iraq was one of privilege. He was educated at the finest schools in Baghdad and earned a degree in engineering. However, in the midst of conflict and war, finding a job proved to be difficult. “There were not many places that I could work because there was so much destruction,” he remembers. “My brother and I ended up starting a small business selling school supplies — pens, paper, books — near the universities. It was successful but the war was getting worse and we had to close.” Alfayadh realized he needed safety, and so coming to the United States, under any circumstance, became his priority.
In 2010, Alfayadh was granted refugee status and immigrated to Elizabethtown, Penn. under the auspices of the Catholic Charities. “I wanted to give back to the community that helped me,” he says, and so he started volunteering with the Church World Service. One year later, Alfayadh became the office’s senior matching grant case manager. “My job is to help immigrants in their first months in this country,” he says. “I take care and make arrangements for anything they might need, whether it’s transportation, enrolling their children in school, exploring their own education opportunities, doctor’s appointments — there is no limit to the things that we do for them.”
When leaving is your only option, the immigration process should be smoother. Because the longer it takes, the more damage it will do to a person’s soul and their overall will to survive.
Although Alfayadh takes pride in his new home, he admits that he did not come here for wealth or happiness, but rather, for safety. “No one wants to leave their homeland. No one wants to leave all of their possessions and their families and friends,” he says. “But when leaving is your only option, the immigration process should be smoother. Because the longer it takes, the more damage it will do to a person’s soul and their overall will to survive.”
Since joining Church World Service, Alfayadh has aided in more than 1,000 immigrant transitions, helping people who, just like him, had to flee their countries. His goal is to make each person not only feel welcomed and safe, but to set them up with the tools they need for success. Alfayadh recently helped a Russian family enroll their children in school, signed the parents up for ESL classes, helped the father secure employment, and helped the mother hold her first art show in Lancaster. “She was a highly regarded artist in her community in Russia,” he says.
The United States must realize that when you give immigrants the tools they need to be successful, the country is the one that benefits the most from our success.
Five years after his arrival, Alfayadh is a proud U.S. citizen and is working to complete his master’s degree in public administration. “I hope to be able to better serve the community regardless of their background,” he says. As for his family? They are all now in the United States as well. His four siblings have advanced degrees from U.S. universities. “In Iraq, we had opportunities but they were taken away from us,” he says. “The United States must realize that when you give immigrants the tools they need to be successful, the country is the one that benefits the most from our success. I saw the injustice in my home country, and I wasn’t able to change it, but here I firmly believe that we can inspire all Americans to create a better community for immigrants.”