In 2014, Umniyah and her family fled Baghdad when their safety was threatened, amidst many years of religious strife and political turmoil in Iraq. It took three years for Umniyah’s family to obtain refugee status and move the United States. Her cousins had fled to Egypt earlier, when they were forced out of their home one night in 2008 during an Al-Qaeda attack. From Egypt, they were able to apply for refugee status and were resettled in Dallas, Texas. Umniyah’s family was also able to eventually relocate to North Texas, near their extended family. However, her sister’s family was left behind in another region of Iraq, and they are only able to keep in touch through technology.
Even with some relatives nearby, Umniyah still misses the sister, friends and community she had in Iraq. As a refugee woman in her mid-20s, she felt very lonely when she first arrived in the U.S., and has had to adjust to many changes. With a new city came the need for Umniyah to learn to drive for the first time. Luckily, she was able to save $2,000 in three months, making her eligible for the matched savings program at the IRC in Dallas so that she could purchase her first car to drive to and from work.
Also different from back home, Umniyah assumed the added responsibility of supporting her family financially, as her mother is retired and her brother is pursuing his U.S. medical degree. Back in Iraq, Umniyah’s brother had been a practicing physician and Umniyah had studied English Literature. Now, their family is dependent on Umniyah’s income as they seek ways to establish their “new normal.”
Initially hired as a part-time associate at Macy’s, Umniyah now works as an interpreter for the IRC Dallas. She has found many friends at the IRC, and now considers her co-workers a second family. She continues her education at night and hopes to receive a certificate in medical coding this fall. Excited to now live in a country she calls “the land of opportunity,” Umniyah’s future plans include a degree in social work and continuing to help others as an Arabic interpreter.
Since moving to her new home, Umniyah has strived to retain a connection with her native culture and religious tradition. She wears a hijab to uphold the Islamic practice of modesty in public and keeps her prayer beads nearby (especially when driving!). Umniyah’s GEM from home is an intricate leather wallet featuring stamps of landmarks from around Iraq, including statues and engravings from Babylon and Nineveh. Such leatherwork is a common artisan trade in Iraq and is a daily reminder to Umniyah of her former life but also the opportunity she is seizing to rebuild a promising future in the U.S.