Faten Rashid is a success story in every way. She is a remarkably kind person, wife, mother of three, beloved by her extended family, deeply valued by her colleagues and clients, and a dedicated student just three months away from her Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington. She even makes it look easy as she glides between work, home, and class all at the same time, raising children, working a full-time job, succeeding at graduate school.
What you wouldn’t know, just to meet her, is that her journey over the past decade has included war, a terrifying middle-of-the-night escape from death threats in Iraq, a destabilizing existence as a refugee in Jordan, and finally starting over in a country and culture not her own. She has first survived, then prevailed, and finally worked with passion to help other people whose life journeys include similar fear and loss. We at Refugees Northwest are incredibly grateful to have her on our staff.
Faten, her husband and children lived a quiet, happy life in Baghdad when the 2003 bombings and escalating war changed their lives forever. She had studied English in college, and in the aftermath of the war, worked for a subcontractor connected to the U.S. But that work put her and her family in danger, as sectarian violence exploded across the city. Her children were threatened; a coworker was kidnapped and killed. She was warned to get out of Iraq to save her family. Just hours later, the family made a desperate dash to Jordan. Life there was unpredictable and perilous. Because they were there illegally and were generally unwelcome in a society brimming with refugees, it was a tenuous existence, filled with challenges in everything from earning a living to providing an education for the children. Through a friend, she learned that her family qualified for a special visa to the U.S. And in 2009, the family relocated to America.
In 2012, she applied for a job as a front desk assistant at Refugees Northwest, and was quickly hired. She watched as resettled refugee clients who came in for ESL classes, job skills, and mental health counseling overcame a variety of problems: grief, loss, previous trauma, the anxiety of dislocation, the challenges of navigating a new environment.
“In Iraq, the traditional view was that counseling was for serious mental illness, so there was a stigma attached,” Faten said. “What I learned was that counseling is something almost any of us can benefit from. We all need support, and it obviously made a huge difference in so many people’s lives. It is something really amazing and I developed a passion for the work.”
With all she had learned, extensive training, and her natural warmth and concern for people, Faten became a case manager in March of 2013. Her clients included people resettled from Congo and Burundi, but mostly consisted of other Iraqis and Arabic speaking individuals, aiding them in their adjustments. “It makes such a difference to talk to someone who knows where you come from and what you’ve experienced. I could really feel what my clients were telling me and that’s so important.”
When new immigrants can experience that comradery and understanding, healing is facilitated, which is why our staff includes people from around the world, many of whom have been refugees themselves. They are here to give a helping hand, as it was given to them.
Faten observed, “Everybody has their inner power and a desire for a better life. But sometimes they have trouble finding it. When they can get just a bit of help and understanding, they can find their path. And that’s when we see people’s lives change. We see them begin to really live again, to get out into the community, and to blossom. Not just individuals but whole families.
It’s really big.”
Recently, Faten and her family visited Iraq for the first time in eleven years. She had the chance to see extended family that she had feared she might never see again. “It was very special,” she said. Her mother asked her if she felt more American or Iraqi at this point. Faten, who is now an American citizen, replied that she retains beautiful memories from her past, but is firmly rooted in the U.S. One of her children is a college graduate, another will graduate soon, and the youngest is in the 9th grade. “A normal American kid,” she says with a smile. Then, more seriously, she added, “We are safe here. I feel a huge trust in that. It is a gift.”
When we think of refugees or immigrants, what is often lost in today’s turbulent times is the abundance of talent and human capital that someone like Faten brings to this country. Her courage allowed her to overcome terror and make the sudden and harrowing escape from the only home she’d ever known. Her deep love for her children and husband helped them survive as refugees living on the margins of society while they lived in Jordan. Her drive and intelligence fueled her employment and advanced education in the U.S. Her heart for people touches so many as she dedicates herself to her work at Refugees Northwest.
When people come to the U.S. to start a new life, they are not ‘refugees’ or immigrants forever. They are simply people who have weathered a fearsome storm, and like many of our own ancestors are grateful and ready to rebuild when the storm passes. Faten is one of them. And she has enriched our organization, our city, and our nation.
PS: Here’s another great thing about our immigrant neighbors: GREAT FOOD! As a bonus for reading, here’s a recipe for:
Faten’s Favorite Tabouli
1 cup couscous
1 large tomato
1 small onion
3 bunches parsley
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 tablespoons good olive oil
Soak the couscous in warm water for 10 minutes and set aside. Dice the parsley, tomato, and onion into small pieces. Drain the couscous and mix with the tomato and onion. Zest and juice the lemon. Then add salt, lemon and olive oil. It’s fresh and healthy. ENJOY!