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Nov 10, 2015 | Carol E. Barnwell

Enthusiastic Welcome Allays Fear of Resettlement

The first, and most important task, for the al Dali family is to learn English. They have less than six months to become self-sufficient in their new Austin home before financial support from the Resettlement Services of Texas (RST) runs out. The four children, ages 10-16, can’t wait to go to school. Tired from their long journey, they are nevertheless animated, happy and hopeful.

 

 

The al Dali’s were told they might have to stay in a hotel or with a family upon their arrival from Jordan. They were surprised when nearly a dozen members of St. Luke’s on the Lake greeted them with signs in Arabic and English at the airport, October 20, “Welcome to Austin!”

 

“No one made fun of my head scarf or stared at me,” said Zainab, 43, who clearly had been worried about the kind of welcome her family would receive. She said she knew at the airport they had made the right choice to come.

 

The family was confused initially when they reached their apartment and found a feast of lamb, tabbouleh and hummus laid out in celebration of their arrival. “Was this the sponsor’s home?” they asked their caseworker, Kamiran Faraj.

 

“This is your home,” Faraj told them.

 

When 10-year-old Sundus saw the colorful playground just beyond their sidewalk and was told she could play there, “She nearly flew down the steps to get to the swing,” said George Zwicker, who helped welcome the family. “I think it brought a sense of normalcy to her,” he said.

 

Daughters of the King and other church members worked for days to gather and move donated furniture. They researched Syrian recipes and cooked, stocked the pantry and sorted clothes in preparation for the family's arrival.

 

“The weeks of preparation and orientation culminate in a few hours—a Matthew 25 moment—when you serve the least of these, you are serving Jesus himself. It is a very powerful moment to greet the al Dali family and usher them to their home for their first night in America, to break bread with them for their first meal,” said the Rev. Mike Wyckoff, rector of St. Luke’s on the Lake.

 

Mohammed Ali al Dali, 51, worked for years as a security guard at the Al-Baath University, Homs, 150 miles north of Damascus. As the civil war ramped up around them, the children were forced to quit school as the bombing increased and got nearer.

 

“There were stories of children being kidnapped,” al Dali remembers. His brother was arrested and tortured by members of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. He doesn’t know why. Police started checking IDs on the street and al Dali decided to leave before his family became a target. So they moved to Jordan, planning to return when Assad was gone. Ultimately, four years of bare subsistence in a cramped apartment just north of Amman left little hope for his family’s future.

 

Al Dali was not allowed to work in Jordan, although he and his son, Abdul Aziz, now 16, “worked under the table.”  They were paid little and were taken advantage of because they had no recourse with officials. They registered with IOM Amman, a resettlement support center and implementing partner for the U.S. State Department. They received about $80 in monthly support from the Jordanian government, until finally, after three years, they learned they would be resettled in the U.S.

 

Neighbors warned: “Your daughters will be taken away, forced to take off their head scarves,” Zainab, 43, remembered. She was frightened for her two daughters until the ill-informed and dire warnings vanished during a required cultural orientation class with IOM.

 

Even though the al Dali’s, who are Muslim, were surprised by the effusive welcome, they were not surprised that Christians would be at the heart of it.

 

“In Syria, we had many Christian friends,” al Dali said through Faraj. “We went to their children’s weddings, to birthday parties." Before the Christians were also forced to flee Syria, “they helped to protect the Sunni families who were targeted by the regime,” he said. It was Christian doctors who helped Abdul when he was hit by a motorcycle during their journey from Syria to Jordan.

 

Abdul has not attended school for four years, working instead to help support the family after they fled Syria. He will need help catching up and keeping up in school. “I want to be a diesel mechanic,” he beamed. Twelve-year-old Hussein wants to learn karate. It doesn’t take long to reignite a dream.

 

Suhaila, 14, and Sundus are all smiles, too. They can’t wait to start school. Faraj said RST’s goal for refugees is to help them achieve self-sufficiency as quickly as possible through job placement, counseling, financial assistance, community orientations and education, which includes ESL classes for all family members and enrollment for the children in school. Faraj said that having a church help resettle a family made all the difference in the world.

 

“Our parish looks forward to co-sponsoring this precious family for the next several months,” Wyckoff said.

 

“Can you imagine only me at the airport to greet six people and take them to an apartment with the bare minimum?” he asked. “This apartment is beautifully furnished! It helps me be able to do more,” he added. Faraj was an interpreter for the U.S. Army in Iraq for eight years before he came to Austin as a refugee. He works for RST as a case manager.

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