Imagine finding yourself in a foreign country unable to speak the language and understand the culture that surrounds you. Although you may find this too terrifying to imagine, for most refugee/immigrants in Buffalo, it is a far better alternative to the life that many have fled from.
As the population of immigrants/refugees explode here in WNY, so do the many challenges for those who have escaped their war torn countries.
In my efforts to find out first-hand about the struggles and successes that immigrants/refugees go through here in America, I came across two families that were willing to sit down with me, and open up their lives, and their homes to share their stories with all of us.
The thing I remember most about Nadhum Abdullah was his big smile and his warm hospitality towards me. After moments of conversation I realized that one of the main sources behind his smile came from his love and his passion to help others.
Abdullah came to America to escape the dangers of Iraq and to provide his family (wife and four children) a safe environment and a better future. In his war torn country of Iraq, Abdullah realized that many children were suffering academically, and he decided to step up and help the children of his country by volunteering countless hours of tutoring children and young adults.
There was no other incentive that pushed Abdullah into action other than the love for people and his strong belief in education.
His strong belief in education is evident in all four of his children. One of his sons, Hasan Wannas, 17, attends SUNY Buffalo State, studying Criminal Justice and Biology. His daughter, Riyon Wannas, is currently a Political Science major at SUNY Buffalo.
She is currently the youngest person to be a democratic candidate running for the 6th district state legislator office in Amherst, NY.
When I asked his children how they were able to succeed in America, they both said that their father always taught them to be their own person. Abdullah always encouraged his children to be individually unique while teaching them the importance to respect the American culture without ever forgetting who they are and where they came from.
One of the challenges that Wannas had was not only not knowing the language, but he was from Iraq, a country with which our own country was at war with at the time he arrived.
Wannas said that although he was bullied and picked on, those things helped him to develop into the person he is today.
This family’s confidence and success was as unshakable as the smile that embraced the man who instilled great qualities in his children and guided their steps to be successful in America.
Kham Sian Sang:
Kham Sian Sang is a mild mannered and very intelligent 21 year old refugee from Burma (Myanmar).
After seeing his parents and older brother being beaten and forced into slavery by the government in Burma, they decided to flee to a refugee camp in Malaysia. At age 16, Sang and his family of eight touched foot in America.
Although they escaped the horrors of slavery and a brutal government regime, life in America had imposed its own challenges to this young Burmese refugee. Not knowing English, Sang found himself the victim of many bullies.
He said that this bullying did not discourage him but encouraged him to learn English. It pushed him to know the language so that he can help others in his community by interpreting English for them.
Sang says the most important thing for him was for him to keep his faith in God first, to keep his culture, and to take advantage of the education system in America. His advice to all the refugees who come to America is to realize that they have all the tools to succeed here and to be patient in learning.
He wants to encourage everyone to have a vision, practice self-control, and follow that vision all the way to the end.