New Neighbor Stories

* 2024 STORIES *

JOEL

I came to the US after six months of hiding and escaping from the Cuban regime. I was a diplomat from Cuba, working at the UN in NYC, and negotiated multilateral agreements for almost a decade. When I informed the Cuban MFA about my decision to quit working for the government—I had been accepted by some degree programs at a couple of US universities—their reaction was open repression, denial of free mobility, harassment, interrogations, and the impossibility of obtaining decent jobs in Cuba. From one day to the next, Cuba had turned into a prison cell for me and my family. My only way to recover a dignified and safe life was to escape Cuba in a boat heading to Mexico and cross the border in Arizona into the US.


I heard about Homes Not Borders from the Director of the International Student House in DC, who introduced me to their Director of Development, Mrs. Amy Hoang Wrona. 


Receiving support from HNB represents more than the evident huge financial relief for myself and my family. It also implies the moral value and meaning of being treated with kindness, like a welcoming note from the people in the US to my family, saying that we aren't alone and that a future of freedom, dignity, and respect has been worth all the risks taken.

AMAL

Amal came to the US in February 2016 from Iraq, following her husband Atheer, who worked for the U.S. government. The resettlement agency took them to a tiny one bedroom apartment for the family of three with only beds,  a tiny sofa and very small dining table as furniture. At first, they thought it was an office, not their apartment. Amal remembers waking up in the middle of the night that first night, very scared and sad, wondering what she and Atheer had gotten themselves into.

A kind neighbor found Atheer a job at a bakery and Amal found a job at a restaurant. Amal soon started English classes at HNB’s partner nonprofit, Solutions in Hometown Connections (SHC). She took classes in both English and eventually pursued a 90-hour certificate class in preschool education that was offered online after hurting her back at the restaurant. With a growing family and a full time job, Amal studied for this certification program whenever she could: while making dinner, between chores and between jobs. 


After getting her certification, she was able to find a job at SHC teaching preschool via zoom during the pandemic, and then, afterwards, with a local preschool. She works part-time at the preschool and joined HNB in February 2024 as our new part-time warehouse manager after meeting Laura, who was sharing an office with SHC for a while.


Amal loves her job at HNB because she loves the people she works with, the dedicated warehouse volunteers, and above all else, the feeling that she’s helping people just like herself. She feels satisfied that she can use her English and Arabic skills to translate when HNB needs it, and connects neighbors and newcomers to HNB and SHC when they need something. She says that God gave me this job so that I can give back and teach my kids that Atheer and I give back to the community that welcomed us.


RAMATULLAH

My story is the tragic story of those refugees who lost everything overnight just because the leaders and politicians decided to make a little change in their decisions.


This little change destroyed thousands of lives, deprived millions of girls from school and displaced millions of people. For politicians, it was just a slight modification of the rules of the game but for us, for the people, it was the start of an endless suffering and pain.


I was struck by how radically things changed in Kabul. I saw how the city fell and  its once- progressive and thriving generation vanished to unknown destinations. I, like every other Afghans, used to live in an extended family, and by the Taliban's takeover, my once happy family shattered and everyone fell apart. My wife and I came to the US, while leaving our loved ones behind amidst those uncertainties, knowing the fact that we will never see some of them again. It was a painful separation.

Our journey to the US was not easy one. In addition to struggling to forget what happened to us, and trying to wipe out all those trauma from our memory, we had to deal with the shocks of starting over and building a new life from scratch.


My wife was depressed and overwhelmed by this sudden change and isolation. I had to look for a job. Being a refugee and having no employment history in the US, it was difficult to get a job. The support provided by the resettlement agency was appreciated, yet insufficient to truly build our shattered lives. That support also ended when I started getting a survival job.


While desperately looking for a chance to take some supplementary courses to get a job in the field of bookkeeping and accounting, I had no chance to do that. I participated in a resource sharing event for refugees. In that event, I met Ms. Manizha from Homes Not Borders and I applied for their Moving Up Fund. With the help of that program I completed a bookkeeping course. That program helped me do the bookkeeping for my current organization and I got a permanent position.


HNB connected me to invaluable resources and provided valuable supports. Sometimes a little support is life changing and empowering for a refugee. As far as I remember, for all those times that my resettlement agency fell short of helping my family, it was HNB that stepped in and filled that gap in supporting us. Their dedication and commitment towards improving the lives of refugees is impressive. 


* 2023 STORIES *

SHILA

Shila is a former military sergeant from Kabul, Afghanistan. Brought over to the U.S. as part of the “Operation Allies Welcome” program in 2022, she settled in Maryland with her sister and nephew. 


Shila worked for a U.S.-trained special forces wing of the Air Force until the fall of Kabul in 2021. She is incredibly proud of her position in the Afghan military. One of Shila’s specialties was repairing airplanes - a skill which has helped her to repair sewing machines for our program. Shila notes that she very much enjoys taking apart the sewing machine and fixing machines that were otherwise ready to be trashed.


Now living in Maryland, Shila’s sister works while she stays home to care for their nephew, whose mother is still in Afghanistan. To pass time while caretaking, Shila sews. Her talents are diverse and she makes a variety of items such as clothes, bags, aprons, and table runners. However, her most popular item are her unique bags which range from totes, to purses, to trash bag dispensers. Shila’s work is beautifully made and one-of-a-kind.


Shila credits her mother’s sewing skills as the inspiration for her craftsmanship. When she was growing up, her mother taught her how to make beautiful things and helped ignite her love for sewing.


Shila is grateful to be able to sell her items and financially support her family still living in Afghanistan, including her parents and her nephew’s Mom.



WALEED YASIN (HNB Staff)

 I left Iraq in 2008 after the death of my mother. My brothers and I were threatened with killing by terrorist militias. My work in Iraq was at a mobile phone communications company (Iraqna Telecom) .

I left with three of my friends to Syria. I stayed in Syria for two weeks. Then I went with my three friends to Turkey. We were waiting for a Kurdish person from Iraq working to smuggle people. Then we agreed with him to take us out to Europe, and after that we went out to some neighboring countries. To Turkey for a week by car, we did not know where we were.

On May 1, 2003 we entered Ukraine. We were received by one of my friend’s friends who was with me on the trip. We stayed in a house in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. Two days after his trip, my friends and I went to the United Nations office in Kiev. The capital, and they issued us some documents so that we could go out and roam freely. There was no help from the United Nations office in terms of food and housing, only a document, and I ran out of a lot of money, and I had to look for work, and I actually found work in one of the Arab restaurants. After working in the restaurants, I was able to find an apartment and rent it Me and my friend, and at that time the price of renting an apartment was $300 per month. After four years had passed, I did not obtain permanent residence in Ukraine.

Then I applied to the United Nations office of the Committee to another country. I had several meetings, and after that they sent my story and my graphic documents to the Immigration Department in the United States of America, and after waiting three and a half years, I got approval to seek asylum in the United States of America.

In February 2016, I entered the United States of America, and I was received by the ECDC organization at New York Airport, and after that To Washington Airport, I was received by an ECDC employee with an Arabic interpreter, then he brought me to the place of residence, where I have stayed ever since. Then ECDC helped me obtain the documents I needed in life such as work, study and health insurance A year later, I got a green card. My first job was in a bakery, after that I worked in a construction company (prospect waterproofing company), and after that I worked as a taxi driver (Uber) and finally at Homes Not Border.

I love helping people and I love working with my friends at work and consider them my family. We are in Homes not Borders, a beautiful and understanding group at work .

-- Waleed Yasin



MOHAMED ZACHARIA

Mohamed Zacharia echoes a wish that every dad has: that his three children can have an education, a good life, and eventually, a stable job. But Mohamed, his wife, Rima, and their three kids had to flee Syria in 2012 because of increasing danger. They came to Egypt, but found limited opportunities there and much hardship. They started the paperwork to come to the U.S. in 2015. In the interim, their eldest daughter got married, and then is going through the process to be divorced. With the help of the UN's International Organization for Migration, they were approved to come to the U.S. in late 2022, but without their eldest daughter. They made the difficult decision to make the journey with their two younger children: Mohamed and his younger sister Raghad.

After living without furniture for a week, they were surprised to see a group of seven volunteers from Homes Not Borders come and do everything from place their furniture to hang pictures on their walls. Rima said that she was very happy and appreciated that the volunteers asked her where to put every piece of furniture and even where to put the wall mirror in her bedroom. Mohamed, for his part, hopes to be able to sponsor his oldest daughter but now is concentrating on the basics: finding a job, securing schools for his kids, and learning English.


ABBAS MOUSA (HNB Boardmember)

Abbas Mousa is one of Homes Not Borders’ board members, an Economist at the Department of Commerce, and a U.S. Army Veteran. His story started in Baghdad Iraq where he was born and raised. He earned his Bachelor degree in Baghdad in 2006, during which, his city and country were taken over by terrorism and armed militias; in that period, IEDs and car-bombs were an everyday occurrence, but one time he narrowly survived a car-bomb that went off at the children’s hospital on his way to school. 


After graduating, he left Baghdad for the northern Kurdistan state and later worked as a translator for the U.S. Army near Mosul. Inside the walls of the Army base, he felt safer but his encounters with terrorism wasn’t over yet. In Dec 2007, he returned to Baghdad to visit his family for Christmas and New Year. One evening during his visit, he survived a kidnapping attempt by jumping out of his kidnapper’s moving van, running to a nearby Iraqi Army check point. He returned to the US Army base the next day and never returned to Baghdad until he got his Special Immigrant Visa to the United States from the US Embassy; a program setup to help Iraqi translators & their families. Abbas emigrated to US in 2009, since then, he got his US citizenship, joined the US Army National Guard, and received his master’s degree in the summer of 2015. 


Abbas has been an active storyteller since 2015 and has performed live locally and nationally, reaching over 20,000 people. His story was published in the Moth’s book, “Occasional Magic," and the Readers' Digest Magazine, and he was featured on NPR's Moth Radio Hour. Abbas’ stories will take you on a journey into the past, present and future, what was it like to live under Saddam, what was it like to vote under Saddam and what was it like living in the post Saddam era in Iraq. His stories take you from dictatorship to democracy, from Iraqi civilian to a US Army soldier, and from Baghdad to Washington, D.C. You can listen to his Moth story HERE.

Watch the video to see what Homes Not Borders means to him.


ORLANDO & EGLIANY

Orlando and his wife, Egliany, have three children, 15- and 16-year-old daughters and a nine year old son. In Venezuela, Orlando worked as a painter and his wife worked for the government. Orlando and his wife knew Venezuela was no longer a safe place to live in when they realized the heavy censorship their children endured while attending government funded public schools. In addition to this, the quality of life was so poor that the family lived off of rationing $5 a month with weeks of no electricity or water supply. This is when the family knew it was time to leave. 


When asked how long their journey took, Egliany started counting on two hands. For seven months, the family first walked through the Darién Gap, with little certainty and much danger, as gang violence targeted migrants and physical geographical barriers. One of the countless migrants who make the treacherous journey every month.

Orlando recalls that passing through Mexico was the most difficult, especially when their oldest daughter got separated from the rest of the family. After they passed the U.S. Mexico border and declared asylum, they finally got news that the daughter was in a facility in New York for unaccompanied minors. They were initially in San Antonio, Texas but then were flown to DC. The family struggled with housing in D.C. initially, living in a shelter and hotels for a month until they were finally able to secure housing in Maryland through HNB's partner IROC. Through all of this unpredictability, the facility did not release the eldest daughter until the family had secure housing, which they now have, reuniting the family. 


Orlando and Egliany say they are very happy and grateful to finally have some stability. She looks forward to her children enrolling in school so they can learn English and get a quality education. After moving into their new home, Egliany was asked what makes you feel most at home to which she thoughtfully responded, “La sala” (“living room”) because this is a space where she feels closest to her family. Her favorite item from HNB are the beds because they were without one for months while on their journey.



KHADIJA

As a young girl, Khadija began learning how to sew from her mother at the age of six. Khadija says, “When I started sewing for the first time, I tried making different colorful clothes for my dolls because I loved playing with them.”

Khadija’s mother was a renowned tailor in her village. Khadija recalls “She had lots of customers. Even during holidays, customers would come visit our home.” Inspired by her mother’s artistry, Khadija practiced every day and gradually learned to sew dresses, crafts and pillow covers with colorful fabrics and threads. She began assisting her mother and finally became a skilled artisan in her own right, sewing professionally on her own.

However in early 2021, Khadija, her husband and their five daughters (ages 4 to 13) fled Afghanistan due the instability in the country and threats to her daughters education and safety. 

Khadija started sewing for the artisan program to earn extra money to pay for her daughters’ uniforms and school supplies. Her signature is using colorful threads; she often combines different colors, which enhances the artistry and beauty of the product. You can see this in many of her pillow covers, tablecloths and dresses. 

Khadija enjoys making items that other find beautiful enough to buy. She says, "I feel content and very happy with the artisan program since it helps me earn money for my children as well as gives me something to do."


HAMEED MOMAND

My journey to the USA began in October 2022 when I arrived as an Afghan refugee through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process. Along this path, I faced numerous challenges and difficulties, taking care of my own SIV case and bearing all the expenses. Leaving my country meant leaving behind my dreams and aspirations for the future—education, career, and the little savings I had accumulated from working in remote areas of Afghanistan.

When I arrived in the US with my wife, we had nothing but two suitcases. I had left behind everything I owned in my home country, and I had spent whatever little money I had during the journey. My biggest concern was finding a place to stay, especially since I had no idea where our first night would be or how to rent a home and furnish it. I realized that if I could find shelter for us, the rest would become easier. After a few days in a hotel in Maryland, LSSNCA rented an apartment for us in Silver Spring for the first few months. 

After the initial worries about shelter, my second concern was having the basic necessities to start our new life. When we entered our apartment and saw that it was fully furnished, words cannot describe the joy we felt. My wife called out to me from the kitchen, excitedly telling me that it was stocked with all the essentials. The living room caught my attention with a beautiful sofa, a cozy carpet, and a new tea table. As I looked around, I noticed the artwork on the walls. Then my wife called me again, urging me to come and see the kitchen, which was filled with dishes. The same went for the bedroom, dining table, and bathroom—everything was complete.

We slept peacefully that night in our new, fully furnished home, thanking Allah. However, I had no idea who made all of this possible. It was only when I noticed a notice on our fridge from HOMES NOT BORDERS requesting feedback that I realized they were responsible. I immediately wrote an appreciation note, expressing my gratitude for all their efforts. In my message, I mentioned that I did not have a computer or a desk.

A few days later, I received a call from a lady who said she had a computer desk and wanted to bring it to me.. When she arrived, she had a computer desk in the trunk of her car and unloaded it herself. I stood there, speechless, witnessing her kindness and determination to make this delivery. She was none other than Miss Manizha Azizi, the Family Services director of Homes Not Borders. 

But the story doesn't end there. 

Miss Azizi also helped me with employment opportunities and invited me to a job fair. During the fair she asked me about my plans. I told her that I had decided to study and pursue a career in software engineering. Miss Azizi offered me the opportunity to receive rent assistance if I worked and studied simultaneously. She asked me to fill out an application, and I was approved for the rent assistance. Now I can continue my studies, as I had contemplated giving up on education due to the financial burden of rent and other expenses.

Once again, I would like to express my profound gratitude to all of you with Homes Not Borders for making this possible. 

-- Hammeed Momand

Homes Not Borders

3610 East St.

Landover, MD 20785

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