Art is more than a career for Ghaith Salman Jarew – it is his calling. If his artistic fate had not been sealed at birth when he became the newest member of a creative family of artists, it certainly was when he picked up a paint brush at the young age of six and felt the sensation of destiny as he held the brush between his fingers. Immediately, the paintbrush seemed like an extension of himself, and he knew that art would forever be a central part of his life. Ten years later, while his fellow sixteen year olds were immersed in the typical experiences of adolescence, he was already painting professionally and building a name for himself in the Middle Eastern artistic sphere. In 2001, he graduated from a prestigious Fine Arts Academy and his reputation as an artist continued to grow, his renown stemming from his two art galleries in Baghdad. He was also well known in artistic circles for his unique technique of mixing painting materials on the same canvas.
In 2004, a calamitous upheaval forced Ghaith and his wife to flee from their native country of Iraq to Jordan, where he was fortunately able to continue selling his artwork. In December of 2012, he and his wife resettled in the United States. As he boarded the plane for his flight to America, he not only waved goodbye to the land that he grew up on, to the friends and family whom he loved, and to the familiarity of his own culture and language, but he also had to say goodbye to his widely revered reputation as an artist. Now in Chicago, Ghaith S. Jarew, a man who had achieved artistic fame in the Middle East, has been forced to start over.
Ghaith’s story is a familiar one for many refugees who have resettled here in Chicago. Before relocating to the United States, many refugees formerly had been professionals who possessed esteemed degrees and respected positions in their home countries. Some were doctors, others carpenters, others teachers. However, when war, terror, or persecution turned their worlds inside-out, these refugees had to flee in order to survive. Once they arrive here in Chicago, refugees are determined to rebuild their shattered lives. They work with RefugeeOne staff to learn English and go through the Job Readiness and Placement Services program so that they are prepared to apply for, interview and work at a new job. However, they must take any job they can get in order to sustain themselves and their families, often settling into low-skilled, low-paying jobs outside of their areas of expertise. Like Ghaith, they must start over, their hard work and professional careers in their home countries relegated to the past.
Most refugees do not dwell on the losses of their pasts, believing that resettlement in the United States offers them a chance to achieve bright futures. RefugeeOne seeks to provide refugees with the tools they need to build new lives of safety, dignity, and self-reliance. Stories like Ghaith’s reaffirm our mission as a refugee resettlement agency. Ghaith’s future looks bright, for he has not forgotten his calling. In his spare time he is working to build a name for himself as an artist here in Chicago, and his determined pursuit of an artistic career is an inspiration to us all.
Desire arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on April 17, 2012, exhausted from the flight and over a decade of turmoil in his home country of The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With him were his wife, Alphonsine, and their six children. As expected, the family was apprehensive about resettling in their new home; the life that they led before coming to Chicago left them with years of uncertainty.
In October of 1996, a brutal conflict was waged in the DRC between ethnic militias and the government. The rebels began coercing men to fight in the vicious civil war.
Often, those who didn’t join them were killed. In 1997, Desire – who refused to become a rebel solider – and his wife were forced to flee from their home by foot. They walked toward Tanzania for 3 days, seeking asylum in the neighboring country. Along with them were other townspeople, his elderly mother, brothers and sisters, and his wife’s family. Once they crossed the border, they were welcomed into the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp by UNHCR.
Life in the camp was challenging. Many died from illness and inadequate medical care. Provided with limited space, Desire built a small 25ft by 15ft hut, using cut wood they collected themselves. For a year, he and his wife grew idle with little work to do. But his 15 years of education – and his prior occupation at a non-profit organization fundraising for disadvantaged children – would prove useful in the camp. When a secondary school was opened in Nyarugusu, Desire was hired as a teacher, giving lessons on economics and finance. This new position allowed him to supplement the meager food rations they received. Despite the rough conditions, it was in the camp that all six of their children were born.
Upon his realization that the situation in the DRC was worsening, in 2002 he met with UNHCR officials to request asylum in another country. It wasn’t until eight years later in 2010 that the eight-member family was told they would be considered for resettlement. Though unsure of what to expect, Desire rejoiced in the good news. They would finally be leaving their misery behind. It was only one day before leaving Tanzania that Desire and his family found out they would be going to Chicago.
When greeted at the airport by RefugeeOne staff and a co-sponsor group from the Yale University Alumni Club of Chicago, his anxieties began to subside. He was overcome with, of all things, courage. Courage to begin his first job, English and ensure his children have a chance at an excellent education.
As the doors to their new apartment swung open, they were taken aback. They were no longer cramped together in the make-shift shelter they had lived in for 15 years, but were surrounded by the warmth indicative of a real home. The house, replete with all the necessities to start over, including clothes, furniture, and toys for the children, was more than they could have asked for. Desire and his family are endlessly grateful for the compassion that was, and continues to be shown by the Yale Alumni Club and RefugeeOne staff.
He is eager to begin his calm and conflict-free life. Once they settle in, Desire plans on accepting the first job offered to him. He dreams of continuing his education and providing a good life for his children. When asked if he wants to return home one day, he quickly replies “no,” and states that this is his country now.
Mohamed Kabiro’s Story
Once a successful fisherman catching over 600 pounds of fish a day in the coastal city of Baraawe, Somalia, Mohamed Kabiro never imagined how greatly his world would change in the upcoming years.
In 1991 a union of armed clan groups brought the long-standing military government of Mohamed’s home country down. After the fall of the military dictatorship in Somalia, different groups began competing for power and soon after a civil war broke out.
During the war he was separated from his family. Alone and fearing for his safety, Mohamed got on his fishing boat and fled to the city of Mombasa in the neighboring country of Kenya. He received warm greetings in Kenya and relocated to Barawan Refugee camp. The camp was well funded by international organizations and food was plentiful, Mohamed felt welcomed. He knew that when it came to his fate—he had been luckier than many others from his village. After seven years, Mohamed was surprised to learn he was being relocated due to the closing of Barawan Refugee Camp.
He was moved almost 1,000 miles away to Kakuma Refugee camp, a camp where conditions were considerably worse. Mohamed remembers his time at Kakuma as very difficult. Donor support was scarce because of the many conflicts going on all around the world. When asked about his daily struggle in Kakuma he replied, “There were shortages of food, and water was very scarce.” Kakuma refugee camp also struggles with the spread of communicable diseases and malaria. During his 12-year stay Mohamed spent his time as a sanitation worker, trying to help keep the camp safe and clean.
During the summer of 2012 he received news that he had been approved for resettlement in the United States. Although he felt nervous about moving to an unknown place alone, Mohamed was yearning for a fresh start. He arrived in Chicago on July 10, 2012. Having spent the majority of his life in refugee camps he cannot even begin to express how grateful he is to be here.
Within two months Mohamed secured a job. He thanks RefugeeOne for helping him to get settled and providing him with the tools to start his journey off on the right foot. Mohamed feels very lucky to be in this country. With that luck he feels, comes a responsibility to help the people in his country who were not as fortunate as he was. Mohamed’s dream is to give back to Somalia. He hopes to work hard and save enough money, to send back relatives, who are still suffering in the refugee camps. Mohamed is so thankful for all the help he has received during an uncertain time of transition. After 20 long years, Mohamed turns the page to a new chapter in his life, ready and excited for the future.
Your support of this project helps us to continue serving refugees like Mohamed who are resettled in the Chicagoaland area.