Escaping to a better life

EL teacher Hiba Al Awadh remembers having to console her mother when her neighbor came to their house and told them something happened with her brother.

“My mom got out of the house, crying,” Al Awadh said. “She didn’t know what was happening. I was trying to calm her down. (I told her) it’s going to be okay, but I was still worried, but I didn’t want her to panic.”

Her brother, who was a senior in high school in Iraq at the time, later told Al Awadh he was shoved into a van by a group of soldiers because of his religion. Al Awadh remembers her brother’s best friend getting a call and sprinting out of the shower to meet him.

“His mom just came to my mom and was like, ‘I don’t know what happened, but your son called my son … and it sounds really bad,”  Al Awadh’s said.

According to Al Awadh, he was lucky. The group was about to pass through an American military checkpoint and didn’t want to risk being caught. Before being thrown out, he was stabbed in the knee. The next time Awadh saw him, there was blood coming down from his leg.

After this event, Al Awadh mom decided it was time to leave Iraq. She didn’t want the accident that happened with her son to happen to him or any of her other children again.

In order to leave Iraq, Al Awadh, her mother and brother tried to flee to Syria. However, at the border, they were informed that only Al Awadh and her brother could go on because of their Syrian father, who died when Al Awadh was five years old. However, their mother, being Iraqi, wasn’t allowed to enter Syria. So, they made the decision to stay.

Instead, they went to a refugee camp called Al Awash on the border between Syria and Iraq. Al Awadh and her family lived here for a year and a half while applying for refugee status.

“It was messy, and there was a lot of people, but obviously at a refugee you are going to live in a tent,”  Al Awadh said. “It didn’t have houses or buildings.”

Despite the city-like tent being cramped, Al Awadh remembers it as a community with a school, restaurants and markets.

“Everything was done inside a tent,” Al Awadh said. “People in the camp ended up creating all kinds of stuff. We had created a school, and we had an organization, (Islamic Relief), help, and through them, we had school open and shops and resturants.”

Al Awadh and her family soon learned they had an option as refugees to go to France as an expedited option because of having an uncle living there as a refugee. However, Al Awadh and her family decided to wait because they already knew how to speak English, and they didn’t want to learn an entirely new language.

After applying and interviewing with the U.S Embassy for a year and a half, Al Awadh and her family were able to come to the U.S. They arrived in Indiana March 31, 2010.

After arriving here, Al Awadh was unable to transfer the three years of college credit she had already received in Iraq. Because of all of the files and information of her credit were lost and couldn’t transfer, she had to start college all over again.

“It felt like three years of my life was completely wasted,” Al Awadh said.

Now she’s an EL teacher, teaching kids who have been in similar situations. Because of her own experiences, she’s able to understand her students’ situations better. According to her, it has affected the way she teaches and helps her bond with her students in a way that no other teacher can.

“It gives me more insight to know how they might be feeling because other teachers, even no matter what how much they sympathize with their students and how much they feel for them, it’s different than living it yourself, “ Al Awadh said. “I can put myself in their shoes because I know exactly how it’s been. I don’t have to think about it much. It’s easy because I have done it.”