Ayman Al Hariri has started a new life in Willimantic and at Windham Hospital.
The Syrian refugee, a former middle school teacher in his native land, left the war-torn nation more than four years ago for the safety of his wife and two young children. The United Nations estimates that more than 400,000 people have been killed and nearly 5 million have been displaced because of the civil war.
“Bombs. Bombs. It was very dangerous,” Al Hariri said searching for the words in English. “I fretted for my children.”
First fleeing to Jordan, he and his family were able to relocate to Willimantic after being sponsored by Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement (QCRR), a local group that helps refugee families transition to life in America through educational and employment opportunities. Thanks to QCRR and a connection to Windham Hospital through Hospital Foundation Executive Director Shawn Maynard, Al Hariri was able to find employment working for the hospital’s Environmental Services Department.
“There would always be barriers for him finding employment, most often related to Ayman not being able to speak English fluently,” said Joe McLaughlin, QCRR Employment Coordinator. “But it’s a Catch-22, because the best place to learn the language and all of its nuances is by working in a supportive environment with coworkers who can model the language.”
EVS Manager Julio Cruz said Al Hariri has been a great addition to the team.
“He’s a fast learner. And, his English continues to improve every day,” said Cruz who first began communicating with his new staff member in Arabic using Google Translator.
Hariri, who has eight brothers and sisters who have had to relocate to Germany, Canada and Lebanon, says he feels at home in Willimantic.
“We left for our safety. I came to America for my children and the future of my family — for the best schools and for their future,” he said. “We feel safe.”
Since arriving in the Connecticut, Al Hariri has gotten his driver’s license and continues to take classes to improve his English.
“I would like to be a teacher [in America] but I need more English,” he laughs.
To date, QCRR has helped three Syrian refugee families transition to life in America.
“Politics falls away when there’s a personal relationship,” said McLaughlin. “And I think that creating that personal relationship is really a solution to a lot of the problems we all face whether it’s in our personal lives or our professional lives.”
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