The Other Side of the Sky: Best-selling Author Farah Ahmedi, a Testimony to the Strengths of Refugees - Part I
By Naazish YarKhan
At 17, Farah Ahmedi, a refugee from Afghanistan was the author of The Other Side of the Sky: A Memoir, New York Times bestseller; a visitor to First Lady Laura Bush; and a guest of Heather and Paul McCartney who presented her with a Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2005. At 19, was on a full scholarship at North Central College in Illinois. Featured in Teen Magazine as one of “20 People Who Can Change the World,” Weekly Reader called her a modern day Anne Frank.
Meet Farah Ahmedi, the then seven-year-old who took a short-cut to school, only to step on a landmine, in Kabul, Afghanistan. She was to spend two years, away from her family, recovering in Germany.
When ABC News’ Good Morning America, in collaboration with Simon and Schuster, asked its viewers to write for “Story of My Life” describing their life experiences, the network was deluged with 6,000 entries and more than twenty thousand pages of inspiring stories. A panel of best-selling authors and editors chose three finalists, and viewers voted one from among these, to be published. Farah Ahmedi’s story was that book.
Moving Readers to Gratitude
Rarely does a book move one’s soul the way The Other Side of the Sky does, forcing us to reconsider our own good fortune, persuading us to be our brother’s keepers. Farah’s story is shaped by war, and Taliban rule, in her home country. The Taliban also conscripted young men and boys into their army; coercing many. Fearing for their sons, Farah’s well-to-do parents sent their sons to Pakistan. That was the last time Farah and her family saw the boys. Weeks later, Farah and her mother, Fatima, returned from a shopping trip to find rubble and death where their home had once been. Farah’s father and sisters had been killed in a bomb blast. Farah and her mother joined the thousands of refugees fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan. Unlike Iran, which had closed its borders to Afghan refugees at the time, there were millions streaming into Pakistan.
In Pakistan, even if they were refugees, freedom from the constant gunfire and bombs was like finding heaven on earth, says Farah. “When we finally made it, we couldn’t stop laughing and praising God from sheer relief.” Once there, Farah’s trials included servitude to children her own age, and becoming caretaker to her asthmatic mother. But despite these setbacks, Farah was sustained by her faith in Allah.
Look out for Part II next week inshaAllah!
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It Takes a Village to Raise a Refugee Family
By Naazish YarKhan
For Dr. Emad Rahim, DM, PMP, it has been a long, long ride. A journey that began in the Cambodian killing fields and rendered him a refugee on US shores in 1982. A journey that, most recently, has taken him to Rutgers University as a visiting scholar and to Oklahoma State University as the Endowed Entrepreneur-in-Residence. Today, this resident of Syracuse, NY, also writes for Forbes, YFS Magazine, CEO magazine, IntelligentHQ and more. Through it all he has learned about the hunger to survive, the importance of a giving community and faith in a better tomorrow. Here is his story.
ICNA Relief: What was the hardest aspect of being a refugee?
Dr. Rahim: We came to America in 1982 when I turned 4 years old. The hardest aspect of being a refugee for my mother and stepfather was the transition itself to America. They did not know the culture, language, custom and did not know any other Cambodians at first. They had to navigate through an unfamiliar system and find employment, get their children enrolled into school, apply to public assistance and food stamp, and learn how to use public transportation to get to all of these places. They had to do all of this barely knowing the language, living in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Long Beach, Brooklyn and Syracuse NY.
ICNA Relief: What kept you going in your darkest hours?
Dr. Rahim: Often it was through the generosity of other people. People that experienced similar things and empathized with our hardship. When we really needed help, people from different religious organizations, the Cambodian community, and people we considered our friends and family (non-blood relatives) that stepped up. People showed up to our house with food when we had none, brought us clothes and medication in our time of need. A supportive community is the real lifeline for all refugee families.
ICNA Relief: If you had advice for those supporting refugees what would it be?
Dr. Rahim: Refugees come to a new country because they are without a country. They are here out of necessity and survival. They only seek short term assistance until they are ready to move forward on their own. These people were teachers, engineers, business owners, merchants, farmers, nurses and other professional back in their home country. They only want to be able to contribute back to society and provide for their family. Refugees and immigrants are the backboard of western economic development. Take a good look at every major city in America and you will see a Chinatown, Koreatown, African Village, Little Havana and Little Italy and other ethnic communities filled with commerce and entrepreneurs.
ICNA Relief: What is your advice to new refugees?
Dr. Rahim: It is important to locate a local community that supports and services refugees and immigrants. Try to live near these places – close by to these services, people and organizations so that you and your family will receive help in getting acclimated into your new environment. These types of neighborhoods may also reduce your travel time to meet with public case workers, closer to schools with ESL programs, ethnic grocery stores, and more likely have people that speak your native language.
For more of Dr. Rahim's inspiring life story, watch his interview on YouTube. You can also follow him on Twitter @DrEmadRahim.
Dr. Emad Rahim is an award-winning author, educator, entrepreneur and TEDx speaker. He currently serves as the Kotouc Endowed Chair at Bellevue University and JWMI Fellow at the Jack Welch Management Institute. He has been featured in the Huffington Post, Forbes Magazine, Project Eye Magazine, IntelligentHQ, The Humanist and CEO Magazine.
Help incoming refugees to the U.S.!
What Does it Mean to be a Refugee Family?
By Naazish YarKhan
Hardship. Loss. Grief. These are just some of the words that come to mind when we think of refugee families. However, the word that truly defines refugee families is “resilient."
A.H. Nasser, age 47, his wife, both of whom have war-induced disabilities, and their six children, exemplify courage, despite the worst tests. Nasser, a Sunni blacksmith, and his Shia wife, had been threatened by militia for their union, putting their family in constant danger. Compelled to flee with their six children, they headed to a refugee camp in Jordan.
A. H. Nasser suffered spinal injuries as their car drove over a landmine, while they were escaping Iraq for Jordan. Of the three passengers in that explosion, only Nasser survived. His wife, who was following in the car behind with their children, never recovered from the trauma. Diagnosed with PTSD, she has been deemed unable to work.
When Nasser had healed sufficiently, the family was resettled by Catholic Charities in Chicago in July 2014. They arrived with neither a formal education nor knowledge of English.
The US government’s social security disability payments are $625 for each parent. The family also gets food stamps. However, a family of eight, by Illinois law, isn’t permitted to live in anything smaller than a three bedroom apartment and their rent is $1400 a month.
“Disability payments aren’t enough to pay for their rent and utilities,” says Ahlam Mahmood, ICNA Relief Chicago, Outreach. “We have helped with utilities, text books for the girls, a recommendation letter for their eldest daughter’s college applications and more.”
HOPES AND DREAMS
Their eldest son, 19, currently in community college, aspires to major in biology, while the couple’s 16 year old high school freshman aims to be a pilot. Their 17 year old daughter intends to be a doctor, while the other girls, ages 15 and 14, want to be a teacher and a nurse respectively. The youngest is a son in preschool.
“The kids work so hard to secure their future,” says Mahmood. “They are learning more English. They are in (an) after school program focusing on English and Math. The girls are in “Girls Go Forward," an NGO for refugees. They are in this program and .”
While the children are adjusting well, Mahmood says the transition has been much harder for the parents. Making ends meet is only one of the challenges. “It’s very hard for the parents. Their children are doing their best and they will be something in the future.”
Want to help other refugees like the Nasser family? Here's how.
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ICNA Relief Georgia Provides A Car To A Refugee Family in Need
Alhumdulillah, with the help of Br. Mateen Mahmood a Honda civic was donated by ICNA Relief Georgia to a refugee family living in Clarkston, Georgia.
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