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.
One of the first families we sat down with was Josephine and QaQa. Before meeting in Lebanon in 2011, Josephine and QaQa were living very different lives. Josephine, originally from the Philippines, left home after high school and started working as a traveling housekeeper. As good job opportunities were hard to come by where she grew up, her work took her to various countries in Europe for five years. After finishing her contract and a change in government regulations, Josephine had nowhere to go. After connecting with a friend, Josephine was told about a spa in Lebanon where she could find work and housing, so she made the leap and left for the new country.
QaQa, on the other hand, grew up in Iraq and as was required, served in the military. During his six years in the army from 1997 until 2003, he was positioned as a coach and trainer. QaQa described life in the army near the end of his service as brutal. They had run out of food, had no access to clean water, and no where to sleep. After three months of these conditions, QaQa escaped to his family home. When he arrived, his family barely recognized him after all he had gone through. QaQa was only able to stay with his family for five days before he realized he was being targeted by the militia. With help from his uncle and a friend, he escaped to Syria where he was able to meet a contact to take him into Lebanon. Once there he was able to receive approval for refugee status and eventually begin working as a trainer at a gym.
In Lebanon, after many years Josephine and QaQa’s paths crossed in 2011. Two years later they were married. QaQa had continued going through the immigration process and was able to add Josephine to his case so that when the time came, they could leave together.
Although Josephine and QaQa had found each other and begun to make a life together, life in Lebanon was not easy. They both described experiencing bombings in the city and recalled their small apartment by the sea where their taps only ran salt water. Josephine also had the added fear of working without papers.
Through her struggle to find work, provide for herself and family, and the ever-changing regulations between the various countries in which she had worked, she did not have the opportunity to seek legal status in Lebanon. One day while working at the spa in 2015, Josephine and five other women were taken in by police for working illegally and placed in jail. Josephine had to leave their infant son Daniel at the spa. Josephine recalls waiting in the jail under the bridge, not knowing if she’d see her family again or why she was really there.
While Josephine was in jail, QaQa found the caseworker who had helped him with the process of receiving refugee status and adding Josephine and their son Daniel to his case. After hearing what had happened, the caseworker was able to explain Josephine’s status to the police. Fifteen days later she was finally released. Sadly, this was not the last time she was sent to the jail. After hearing that her father was ill in 2016, she tried to find a way to visit her family in the Philippines but the police had taken her passport when she had been taken into custody. On a leap of faith, she went back to the jail to try and retrieve it but was placed back into custody instead for another fifteen days. While in custody, her father passed away and she was unable to attend the funeral. Though heartache and challenges came their way, Josephine and QaQa remained strong and patient during their time in Lebanon.
Finally, in January 2017, QaQa’s case was approved for resettlement and the family was on the way to the U.S. QaQa commented that when he found out that they were finally traveling, he had almost forgotten he was in the refugee process as it had been fourteen years since he first came to Lebanon. But it was real.
In January 2017 Josephine, QaQa, and Daniel made the long trek to Memphis Tennessee where the World Relief team was eagerly awaiting them. When they arrived, they found they already had a furnished apartment near other refugee families and multiple caseworkers helping them with paperwork, job placement, and doctors visits. They also had a Good Neighbor Team in place to help support them in their transition during the first few months in Memphis.
As neither of them spoke English upon arrival, the first few months were especially challenging. After six months they were both able to start jobs and really land on their feet. They discovered how different life was, but with community around them, they felt supported.
Now, five years later they are home owners, have their own cars, are citizens, have steady jobs, and even have another son, David. Over the years they have been able to keep in touch with family through apps like WhatsApp and Facebook but nothing compares to being together as Josephine and QaQa expressed.
When asked what impact World Relief has had in their life Josephine shared, “It was very helpful. Like when we started they were there step by step until we pushed to our main goal. Our goal that we can build our family here where we are stable and we are legal. We are very thankful to World Relief.” QaQa also shared that “World Relief helps people. They help people not just stay in the house together all the time.” He shared that he was grateful for the initial assistance but was most excited to be independent and provide for his family, and World Relief helped him do just that.
Looking to the future, QaQa and Josephine hope to see their children continue in school and go to college. Josephine shared that, “we work hard for our children to go to college, and we will continue working hard until they go to college and then stand on their own.” They also have dreams of travel. Now that they have their passports they are planning a trip to visit Josephine’s family, whom she hasn’t seen since 2010.
As our conversation wrapped up, Josephine and QaQa continued to speak about visiting friends in different states, and their experience with buses. Josephine laughingly said “my husband, he’s very adventurous. He is very confident in himself,” as QaQa was telling a travel story.
We are so thankful for Josephine and QaQa for sharing their story and allowing us to share it with you. World Relief Memphis has been serving in this city for ten years because of support from people like you. We thank you for joining us on our journey to 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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