Iraqi Single Mom Makes a New Start in Seattle

Posted by HIAS – NY on Mon, Nov 11, 2013 at 18:19 pm


One year after arriving in the United States, Sawsan, an Iraqi refugee single mother with three kids, found an inner strength she never knew she had. “I am confident now, and I feel I can do even more than people in families with two parents,” she says. “I found myself here.”

Sawsan could never have imagined feeling this way just a few years ago. When she first married her husband, a successful construction company owner, their home and family in Baghdad were her whole life. But after taking on contracts for the U.S. forces, her husband began to receive threats. Their nephew was kidnapped and held for ransom, and there was a bombing close to their children’s school that left several students dead. “We were very worried for our children’s safety,” she explains. Sawsan and her husband left Iraq for Jordan.

They agreed they would set up a new life in Amman, but her husband would travel back to Baghdad for work because it was the only way he could support the family. He called home every day when he was away. “When I didn’t hear from him for two days, I knew something was wrong,” she says.

She learned he’d been shot and killed.

Left alone to care for the children with no source of income, her savings dwindled, and she was forced to sell the family’s house. She could not find work in Amman and felt hopeless—unable to go back home and unable to stay in a place with no future prospects. She applied for refugee status to go to America, hoping there would be more opportunities there. She scraped by for two years waiting to hear back about their application.

By the time she heard back, “We had nothing left,” she remembers. “All I could think was my children would be able to go to school, and I would find a job. We would resettle and have a happy life.”

Sawsan moved to Seattle, Washington where she was received by HIAS’ local Jewish Family Services partner. She joined HIAS’ Preferred Communities Program, which provides newly-arrived refugee women who are single moms with intensive case management and support services.

HIAS affiliate partners in this program—US Together in Columbus, Ohio and Jewish Family Service of Seattle in Kent, Washington—empower single-parent families to work toward self-sufficiency and lead productive lives in the U.S. From the beginning, case workers orient and educate participants like Sawsan about the responsibilities they face in their new home and provide them with a support network. Single moms get referrals to English language training, health services, schools, child care, and other relevant services. They also benefit from in-home mentoring, including supplemental English instruction, computer literacy, and cultural orientation.

The participants find the emotional support invaluable: most do not have U.S. ties and are entirely reliant on the agencies. “At first it was extremely difficult for me here,” Sawsan recalls. “But I reached a point when I realized I would have to face the challenge. Sitting at home receiving money from the government is not my way and I realized I have to work to make a better future for my family.”

Sawsan had to work twice as hard because she is a single mom. She attended English as a Second Language classes for seven months while looking for a job every day with help from her employment specialist.

The program helped her with the responsibilities of daily life in America. “Now I know how to pay bills and have a bank account. I felt comfortable contacting my case worker with any question I had and always got whatever information I needed.”

Most importantly for Sawsan, the program offered invaluable motivation. “The first days I was here I was thinking about giving up because it was too much for me to handle alone—three kids, no father, a new society, a new culture, working for the first time. But day by day I got stronger and stronger,” she says.

Sawsan’s Program Coordinator also implemented new activities that focused on increasing clients’ employment opportunities, including initiating a weekly sewing workshop. “For me, this program was wonderful because I found community there. It helped me get out of myself. I had been looking for a job, and it was difficult for me. I was often sad. The social activity was really good for me.”

Soon, she found her first-ever job in the food preparation industry. She is extremely proud to be working full-time and supporting her family now. “Today I feel safe and comfortable here. I like life here,” she says cheerfully.

“When I close my eyes, in five years I see my kids attending university, getting their degrees, and striving for their goals. The only things I wish for are to have my own small house for the family, a car, and a stable income.”

Her newfound confidence and determination ensures she will be able to achieve her dreams. “Now I believe in myself much more than before, and I am proud of myself. I am happy I came here.”

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