Gratitude flows easily from the hearts of Sheekadeen Sulieman and Alnaseem Hussein and their son, Mohammed Sulieman. This small family has fled twice from war-torn countries. Originally fleeing from Sudan, Sheekadeen and Alnaseem were living in Libya when they welcomed their only child, Mohammed, into the world. War broke out in Libya in 2011 when then President Muammar Gaddafi was killed. Rioting and killing began immediately. After Alnaseem observed her four-and-a-half year old son peering out the window and witnessing brutal stabbings with machetes and people carrying dead bodies through the streets, she and Sheekadeen knew they had to leave right away.
Sudan was simultaneously experiencing conflict, so going home to be with family was out of the question. Like most refugees, they left behind their home, in this case a lovely brick duplex, and all of their belongings with the exception of one bag each for clothing. They rented a car, similar to an Uber, and made the quick two-hour journey to Salloum refugee camp in Egypt. In the blink of an eye, Libya became a memory.
The sight of the refugee camp was not comforting or reassuring for the family. Alnaseem told me, “I thought, maybe I’m not going to make it. It looked like little tents. Tent, tent, tent, tent, open with tents on dirt. You get your space and that’s your home.” They cooked their meals on a small propane stove. Propane was provided by an organization in Cairo, and they were charged a small fee. They, along with all the refugees at Salloum, were segregated from the local community and not allowed to leave the camp or work. I asked if they had enough food. “We didn’t think about food. I was more focused on the future, how we were going to get out of the camp. How we would leave.”
While the majority of refugees will spend upward of 15 or more years in the camp, Sheekadeen, Alnaseem and Mohammed were able to leave after 15 months and come to Spokane, Washington. They happily recall when they first arrived in Spokane to be greeted by Jordan Bemis and former staff Aida Debaisi. They remember the white van that took them to their new home. Of course, the first few months were challenging. Thankfully, World Relief walked alongside them. Alnaseem’s gratitude was evident in her voice and her smile. “World Relief showed us how to go shopping, how to go to school, how to ride a bus, how to go to hospital. Everything is amazing. If I need anything, I just let World Relief know.”
The language barrier is probably the biggest challenge for all of our clients. Not knowing English didn’t prevent them from pushing forward to make a new life here, but the snow did cause some issues. They arrived in winter 2012, and Alnaseem laughs as she shares one of her first encounters with snow, “We walked from our house to Safeway for shopping, and I fell down three times.” Sheekadeen commented, “We didn’t know how to walk in the snow.”
Sheekadeen reminisced about his first job, working in Alaska on a fishing boat, separating him from his family for several months. Mohammed, just like any other young boy, was lonely for his dad. When Sheekadeen came home from that Alaskan adventure, World Relief informed him three days later they already had another job lined up for him. Sheekadeen laughed and said, “I’m only home three days!” He needed time to reconnect with his family.
So what is this resilient family up to now? In 2018, the family became U.S. citizens with the assistance of World Relief. When I first met them in 2012, Mohammed was a kind little boy. Now he is an extremely kind and well-mannered young man. He has exceeded the hopes and dreams his parents envisioned for him. Simultaneously a senior at Ferris and a sophomore at EWU studying architecture, he is a member of the National Honor Society and plays soccer and basketball. He has hopes of finishing college at UW or WSU.
Sheekadeen currently works at Sacred Heart along with Alnaseem in environmental services. Alnaseem has her CNA license and is planning on pursuing a career in her field early 2024. They also have plans to buy a home in the near future.
Gratitude flows from their hearts and their lips. For Spokane. For World Relief. For a safe home, jobs and opportunity. For peace.