Rana A. is not only a valued staff member here at LIRS, she’s also a former refugee who has overcome tremendous obstacles as she’s made a home for herself here in the United States. Read an excerpt from her story that she recently shared with us below and help us to celebrate the women in our lives who, against all odds, keep reminding us to smile:
I’m a refugee from Iraq. I arrived in the U.S. in January 2010. You may know something about what Iraq has been through because of sanctions, wars, fundamentalist problems. I can say for myself that I survived the wars in Iraq that had started when I was still a kid.
In 1981, there was the Iran War. In 1991, the Gulf War and then those eight years of darkness when we had economic sanctions. I didn’t know what sanctions meant at that time but I remember it was very hard for my family to afford to buy food and pay rent. Everything was too expensive and I remember that I was so hungry for food – we couldn’t even buy basics like milk and fruits.
In 1998, my father decided to walk away from our family. My mom was left to take care of my brother and me. But in 2003, when the war started again, her responsibility became even bigger. I remember everything of this war. I was so scared and old enough to know that we could die at any time. In 2005, I survived a kidnapping attempt. I remember there were guns pointed at my head.
In 2008, the United States opened the door for refugees applications and it was a chance for me to finally get away from all that was going on in Iraq. So I applied. It was a big decision. Because as a women in Iraq, I had very few rights and was very oppressed.
When the time came to travel, I was scared and very tired inside from all the traumas that I had been through. I was afraid to be away from my family but I knew that I would be safe in the U.S. – there were no car bombs and no explosions to hear on a daily basis.
When I moved to Takoma Park, MD, I was really alone and very depressed. Speaking a new language was very difficult for me. And it was very strange, but all of a sudden, all of my childhood memories came back to me and I started to remember how my mom used to take care of me. I felt like there was a pain inside of me that nobody could understand and it was so difficult to be in a country where nobody could understand how I feel and the difficulties that I experienced.
It took me a long time to get back to being a person who could smile again. When nobody understood me, LIRS became like a second family. LIRS embraced me and I know that if I needed anything that I could find so many good people who would offer help. Here, at LIRS, I never felt like a refugee, nobody treated me less and everyone was interested and happy to have me.
Through my work at LIRS, I have an opportunity to be put in touch with other refugees. I can listen to their stories and know that there are so many people who have been through a lot and that makes my pain less when I can hear these stories.