ICNA Relief Blog

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.


Dr. Emad Rahim with his wife, fellow entrepreneur Cjala Surrat owner of Muslamb Stationers, and their children.

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.!