Over the ten years World Relief Memphis has been in operation, we have had the privilege of serving hundreds of refugees, asylees, and other vulnerable immigrants. Over the past couple of months, we reached out to some of the first families and individuals we welcomed, to our newest arrivals.
Hussam and his family’s story is one of miracles. Originally from Syria, Hussam, his wife, and their young son Farouk sought safety in Jordan after civil war broke out in 2013. When they first left their home, they thought they would only be gone for a few months, but quickly realized that would not be the case. While in Jordan, they discovered their son had a rare form of cancer in his eye. They immediately sought treatment, spending all of their money and selling almost everything they had, including Hussam’s wife’s gold jewelry. This was only enough to pay for the first treatment. After that, they had to find a way to come up with the money again for the second treatment only 21 days later. “That day I can say was a very horrible day. I mean, it was the hardest day during the whole journey for me.”
Thinking of anything he could do for his son, he reached out to the Princess of Jordan. Messaging through Facebook, he was able to share his story and she responded! She reached out to her assistant to connect with them further and they were then able to get coverage for the chemotherapy bills. While at the hospital, even more amazing things occurred. As Hussam was walking through the halls, he overheard people speaking about immigration and an organization called IOM (International Organization for Migration). Through hearing that conversation, he was able to apply for refugee status and start the process for coming to the U.S.
“I didn’t want to go to Jordan. I didn’t really want to leave my country in the beginning. But, what I found out after what happened to my son was that the hospital in Jordan was the only hospital in the Middle East that takes care of this cancer. It is a very rare cancer. My son, he was one in 5,000 cases.” Though his family did not want to leave their home, because they did, their son was able to receive the exact treatment he needed at the right time.
After his family received their status, he spoke to his son’s doctor about their situation and asked where they should try to go in America. The doctor immediately said Memphis, Tennessee. He continued to share how he had studied at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and that they should go there to pursue treatment once they were approved. After three years of waiting and seven chemo treatments, they were finally invited to resettle to the United States in 2016. This was only a few months before the Syrian travel ban was put in place.
Hussam shared excitedly about their first day in Memphis, “The first day in Memphis was very cool. I love it. I was like, “Yay this is the United States! Where are the high buildings? Where is the Statue of Liberty?”’ We had a good laugh about that then he continued to share how the first couple months felt like a dream. World Relief Memphis was able to set them up with all that they needed in their home and connect them with St. Jude in their second week. “There was an apartment there ready to live in. There was food and everything we needed as a family at that time. Yeah, that was amazing.”
Some of the biggest hurdles after refugees are resettled is the language and transportation barrier. Even though they did not speak English when they first arrived, they were able to get a translator at St. Jude to assist them throughout the whole process. St. Jude was also able to provide transportation for Hussam and his family from their home to the hospital for all of their appointments. “They took care of everything from A to Z. They are amazing.” Now, seven years later, his son is doing great. With the type of cancer he has, it will never fully go away, but it is now in remission. Hussam then told us about his second son, born a couple of years into living in Memphis. Because of Hussam and his wife’s love for St. Jude, they named their second son Jude. The name also happens to mean “generosity” in Arabic, or “one who gives and expects nothing in return.” “St. Jude is a gift from God. It’s a grace.”
Sharing more about their first few months, he described their excitement and how they began to make friends starting with one of their Good Neighbor team volunteers, Kyle. Hussam shared that Kyle speaks seven languages including Arabic, which was the only language that he and his family spoke at the time. This relationship helped keep their family in good spirits as the initial high from arriving in the U.S. began to come down and the worry began to set in.
All of the bills and things that were initially put on hold were coming at them fast. He also worried about beginning to learn English and apply for jobs. While he was waiting to get a job, Hussam dedicated himself to studying English. Six months later he finally got a job. During this time, a volunteer also donated a car to the family which allowed for more freedom and flexibility.
Hussam was determined to save money and provide for his family. At one point he was working three jobs to be able to save up enough money to be approved for a loan to then buy a house. In 2020 he did. “When I bought the house, I felt like I had a home again. A house to me is a country. I feel like my house is my country and it makes a big difference. I’m happier, more excited, and its better for my family.”
While talking about his process to get jobs and house he shared that “World Relief taught me how to do it the right way. Sometimes what they told me was hard or they would ask me to do things myself, but that was the right thing.” Because the caseworkers at World Relief Memphis worked with and not for Hussam and his family on things like legal paperwork, job hunting, and loan applications they were able to become independent more quickly even if it was hard in the moment.
Thinking on future plans and personal goals, Hussam is excited and eager to vote and continue to advocate for refugees. He wants to push against the misconceptions surrounding the refugee immigrant community especially for Syrians like his brother, whom Hussam is still waiting to be reunited with. Another plan the family has is travel. Now that they are citizens and have their passports, they are eager to reconnect with family. A big goal that he has is one day opening his own dental practice. Throughout his time in the dental field he has loved making people smile and he wants to be able to continue to do so as a business owner.
Lastly, Hussam shared what his dreams are for his sons. He hopes that his children understand the journey that their family has been on and all that they went through to come to America. He hopes that his children will be able to help others in their careers whether that be as doctors or something else. “I hope they can do it.”
We are amazed at how clearly you can see God’s hand throughout Hussam and his family’s entire journey. We are so thankful to Hussam for sharing his story and allowing us to share it with you. World Relief Memphis has been serving in this city for 10 years because of support from people like you. We thank you for joining us on our journey in making Memphis a more welcoming community.
Writer: Kara Spencer
Communication Coordinator at World Relief Memphis, recent graduate of Harding University, and Memphis native.
Photo Credit: Emily Frazier
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