Sudanese refugees find a better tomorrow
Inside a tidy green and white bungalow in Moline, Osama and Nahid Ali sit between their four children on a large leather sectional sofa. It's a Friday night, which means family time. There are snacks and drinks and lighthearted discussions of school and technology and work.
It may resemble a scene taking place in homes across the Quad Cities. But the Ali family doesn't take it for granted. As Sudanese refugees, they left a country ravaged by civil war, violence and famine. Following six years in Egypt, the Ali family arrived in Moline in 2010.
“This has become our home,” Osama says, gesturing to the home they purchased in 2014. “We are lucky.”
"We suffered a lot in Sudan and we suffered more in Egypt," Nahid explains.
"But I'm not suffering from our experiences now," Osama adds. "It's made me stronger."
But while Nahid and Osama may have brought their family across the world to find a home, they also face struggles that many parents face - like keeping their kids safe, providing for their family, and instilling values that will last a lifetime.
Here at now what?, one of our goals is to celebrate and connect caregivers in the Quad Cities. One way we do that is sharing stories of families like the Alis.
Living in peace.
"Our goal was only to live in peace," Osama says of leaving Sudan. "The only way to seek this life was to find protection somewhere else."
When the family found out they would be moving to Moline, they were skeptical. It looked like a tiny dot - just a small village, they thought.
But when they arrived at the local airport and met their case worker from World Relief, they were instantly put at ease. That was the beginning of their new lives in America.
Nahid will always remember the kindness of those who helped them transition to their lives the Quad Cities. “People helped us at every step,” she says.
World Relief Moline works with 200 refugees each year to be resettled in the Quad Cities. World Relief case workers connect with families from the moment the arrive and provide resources for employment, education, housing and citizenship.
Finding a local family.
The Alis are thousands of miles from their Sudanese family, but they have connected with others right in Illinois and Iowa. There are large community events planned for other Sudanese refugees and those they've met through religious activities.
“And World Relief volunteers and staff – they are our family,” Nahid explains.
Osama and Nahid still call family in Sudan, although time differences and schedules can make it a challenge. But the network of family and friends they have built in the Quad Cities helps.
“We were far away from our country and our people," Nahid recalls. "But we had our motives to build a new life – and people gave us the chance.”
Keeping Sudanese values - and adopting new ones, too.
Five years ago, Osama and Nahid spoke little English. But the children were able to fill in some of the gaps. And over time, language became a little less of a barrier.
However, the family always speaks Arabic at home.
“It’s a change at the door,” Gofran says. While this is natural for the oldest children, it can be a challenge for 2-year-old Ahmed, who was born in America. Because he speaks only English at daycare and is just beginning to learn to talk, “he gets a little confused,” Mohtadi laughs.
But the Sudanese language and culture are two gifts Osama and Nahid want to give their kids. And they also hope they will embrace their backgrounds and remain close to their family. The family spends weekends together and fits in family time regularly. And while Nahid often works 10-hour days, she rushes home to spend the rest of her days and nights with her family.
The Alis also embrace American values, too - like the importance of hard work, honesty and independence. It's really been a balance of the new and old.
But they don't necessarily subscribe to the idea of the melting pot. Because varying backgrounds and cultures is what makes America special.
"This is a country of diversity," Osama says. "We're not melting because we need to keep our values, too. We want to share the best of our culture."
The power to plan and dream.
Since making the Quad Cities home, the family now has the opportunity to look to the future and make better lives for themselves.
"Before coming here, we couldn't plan," says Osama. "We didn’t draw a map of our lives. Now we can."
Things like buying a home, sending their kids to college, and finishing their own education are high on these parents' priority lists.
Osama recently finished his degree in computer science and Nahid will soon return to finish her master's degree in economics. (She was one year away from graduating when they left Sudan.)
And they instill the importance of education into their kids, too. The family's oldest daughter Gofran, a tenth grade student at Moline High School, thinks she wants to study to become a surgeon one day.
“I watch my kids’ success. We own this home. I think we are lucky,” Nahid says as she begins to cry. “We started with difficulties and challenges, but tomorrow is better than today.”
The Quad Cities is a wonderful place to call home, and refugees like the Alis risk a lot to bring their families here.
But while this family's story sounds much different than yours, all parents face struggles and challenges and strive to give their children a better life. Let's make this community an even more special place to live - by connecting with others, embracing diversity, and celebrating success.