Staff Feature: Saw Gary

Meet Saw Gary, Resettlement Specialist, World Relief Spokane: IMG_3029
I was born in Burma with eight brothers and sisters. When I was twelve years old we fled to Thailand to seek asylum. We didn’t make it to a camp, but instead lived on the border of Burma and Thailand in a small village. We were not considered Thai so we didn’t receive the same help that other asylum seekers in the area were getting. If you make it into a Thai camp you get daily amenities like food, water and shelter, but in the village where we stayed it was difficult to provide for everyone. We had nowhere to go. If we went back to Burma we would be killed. My brother and I traveled to Bangkok where we eventually received asylum status. I was just sixteen at the time. Traveling a great distance with nowhere to stay and my safety at risk was scary. It was possible for us to get arrested at any time and deported back to Burma. We ended up staying at a church that helped us throughout our time in Bangkok. We were resettled to Minneapolis, where I graduated high school and eventually found a job. I was eager to do something with refugees and with language. I speak seven languages, which helped me find a job at World Relief Minneapolis as an employment specialist. After some time working there, I got married and moved to Spokane, where I again began working for World Relief.
I really enjoy the job because at one point I was in their position. It’s hard, but I can encourage them that they’ll get there eventually. I am a refugee, so giving back and helping other refugees is the best thing I can do. Sometimes people get distracted by the things they see on the news, but it’s so important to get to know refugees personally, connect with them and hear their stories. Their stories touch so many. When someone relocates to a new place it’s hard in the beginning, but finally that person is safe. They have a car and a job and they can stand on their own. It is amazing to see and be a part of.

A Narrow Escape & A New Start


Meet Idris…

A self-described “tech guy,” it’s clear from the moment you meet Idris that he loves everything computer-related. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and he put his passion and education to use for over ten years serving the U.S. government in his home country of Afghanistan.

Reign of Terror

Idris and his wife, Frozan, remember the good years in Afghanistan – the years before the fighting broke out, before landmines littered the picturesque mountains, before the reign of terror began. In 2008 Idris watched as his father was shot and killed by Taliban fighters. His only crime – that his son was employed by the American government. Though Idris was in the car with his father, the Taliban did not recognize him and his life was spared that day. In the coming years, though, Idris and his entire family were targeted. He received threatening calls and menacing notes on the door of his home. On a Friday in 2014 Idris was enjoying a day at the park with his friends. His cell phone rang. When he answered, a voice on the other end told him he could see the blue kite Idris was flying at that moment. He knew he was being watched and time was running out. Fearing for his life, Idris applied for a Special Immigrant Visa, a travel permit awarded to Afghans and Iraqis whose lives have been threatened as a result of their service to the U.S. government. Six months later, Idris and Frozan were on a plane to a place they had never heard of before: Spokane, Washington.

A New Start

Idris and Frozan had no idea what to expect. They had visas permitting them to live in the U.S. and less than a month’s worth of money in their pockets. They assumed they were now on their own in a new country, and Idris wondered how they would manage. To their surprise, they were met in the Spokane airport by a smiling woman who received them with a welcoming embrace. It was Lyndsie, their World Relief case manager. Idris was beyond relieved – here were people to help him and his wife. They joined the Match Grant program and Idris told his job developer, “I don’t care that I have a bachelor’s degree. I don’t care that I have ten years IT experience. I will work in a hotel. I will work in a shop. I will do anything. This is the start of my new life.” IMG_2712

Today, Idris and Frozan are the proud parents of a beautiful little boy named Mustafa. He is the first American citizen in their family. Frozan is caring for Mustafa and continuing to learn English. She hopes to one day attend nursing school. Two weeks after their arrival Idris began a job in a call center. The job was difficult and many new hires left after the six-week training. Idris remained at the call center for seven months before applying for a position with Apple. After a demanding interview process, Idris was hired. He is now an Apple Genius! He is deeply valued by his manager and coworkers. He has loyal customers who occasionally stop in just to say hello. And Idris is once again doing what he loves!

Staff Feature: Lanette Pieterse

IMG_1409 Lanette_4Meet Lanette Pieterse, Employment Specialist, World Relief Spokane:

I was born and raised in South Africa. In 2009 I moved to Vietnam to teach English. There I met my husband, an American, who was also teaching. I lived in Vietnam for about a year and a half and during that time we got engaged. My husband’s parents moved to Spokane, and shortly after we moved here also. It was a harder adjustment to America than I had thought. I imagined it would be like the movies, so it took me by surprise when the small differences added up. Simple things like personal space and the sense of humor made the move more difficult. My sense of purpose and my life with my husband helped me feel comfortable here.

I began job searching in Spokane but I really struggled to find a job I enjoyed. I worked freelance jobs for about a year until I came to World Relief in June 2014. In my job, I work for a federally funded pilot. The program deals with life skills, personal strength building, stress management, health and well-being and how to communicate effectively. It is designed to create long-term success for many different groups of people. We all work here because we want to see refugees be successful and self-sufficient, and that is the driving force for why I do what I do. One of my favorite stories in this job is of a father who was placed as a volunteer at Goodwill. He had a prosthetic arm and spoke very little English, but to him these were no barriers to success. He was eager to start working even if it meant not getting paid. The managers were so impressed with him they ended up hiring him full time!

I think many people don’t realize how normal refugees are in the sense that they want to be successful and they want to be happy. They are as complex and individual as anyone else you meet. My hope is that people view refugees for more than the tragic story that they may have walked though. At the end of the day they are just people desiring a new start.

Staff Feature: Haitham Dawoud

This is the second installation of a series featuring the talented and diverse staff of World Relief Spokane.

Meet Haitham Dawoud, Finance Manager, World Relief Spokane:

IMG_0882-2“I lived my childhood in Kuwait and returned to Iraq when Kuwait was invaded in 1991. In Kuwait, I attended an American school and grew up speaking English and Arabic all of my life. In Iraq I was threatened and shot at so I didn’t stay. In 2003 when Iraq was liberated I left to work for an American organization in Guinea, West Africa. During that time my family left to Syria to begin the refugee process so I traveled to Syria for just a few short months to be with them. I did not apply to be a refugee because the program then was not established like it is now. During that time, I was contacted by a previous employer from America and asked if I would be interested in working for an American organization in Madagascar. I began working on getting my masters from an American University in Kenya. It was there that I met my wife, also studying Science of Administration and International Development. Within six months we left to China, got married, moved to America in April 2008, and began working for World Relief Spokane in May 2008. I have been working as the Finance Manager ever since.

“My job has many aspects, the government side and the people side. Some days the funding is stable, and sometimes it’s not. Some people come with expectations, usually high ones, and some do not. Many people face a number of cultural issues when they arrive in America and often times find the adjustment difficult. The other side of it is the community aspect. Some communities are accepting of refugees and some are not. The few that are not, often don’t understand refugee resettlement and what it actually means. It is important to be well communicating to the community and well educating to the community at the same time. When a refugee arrives with a hardworking attitude and motivation, that motivation always leads to excellence.”

Staff Feature: Jackson Lino

This is the first installation of a series featuring the talented and diverse staff of World Relief Spokane.

Meet Jackson Eremugo Lino, Resettlement Specialist, World Relief Spokane:

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“I was born in Sudan in 1988 with 13 brothers and sisters. Four years before my family moved to America we traveled to Cairo, Egypt to begin the refugee process. There, our situation was deemed severe enough to be placed as refugees in America. We moved to Boise, Idaho in 1999 and resettled through World Relief. I was 12 years old when I started school and began really learning English for the first time. At first, it was a lot of learning to adapt. I had to quickly learn how to live in America while still dealing with the trauma I experienced back in Sudan. I can still vividly remember my first cross country race. I lined up with all of the other runners and when the gun went off signaling all of the runners to start I fell down to the ground. I was so traumatized from the sounds and experiences from my past. I thought guns were going off and I was unsafe. Everyone looked over and started asking if I was hurt. They didn’t understand the fear. Refugees come to America with so many different experiences. Today I deal with that by helping people understand what my culture was like, by loving the community around me and by looking forward.”
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“My passion has always been to help people. I am a community type of person. That’s how I feel fulfilled. By loving people and serving people I have purpose. It’s been a blessing to work with World Relief. Refugees want the opportunity to excel, like we all do. Refugees are over-comers – they are strong people who I’ve seen walk through storms most of us can’t imagine. I have lived the life of a refugee, and I take what I experienced into helping all of the refugees I work with here at World Relief. It was hard, and it was a lot of overcoming obstacles. But I always highlight the fact that if I have come this far, so can they.”


Jackson shares a laugh in the World Relief Spokane waiting room.



The “Language” of Play

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On May 14th several families gathered at the Mobius Children’s Museum in downtown Spokane. The gathering group consisted of refugee families as well as their American volunteers. They were matched together through World Relief’s mentorship program.


As the families approached the entrance of the museum, two little girls could be seen holding hands. Though they had met only that morning and did not share the same nationality, native language, religion or skin color, they were united in one all-encompassing goal: to have fun!

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The kids were all laughter and non-stop action. They raced from bubbles to sand to water and back again. They were dentists, firemen, inventors, and superheros. They were kids – beautiful, wild and free, and they proved that the language of play transcends all barriers.

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World Relief would like to thank Mobius Spokane for generously donating the day passes that made this awesome play time possible! We also want to honor the incredible volunteers who invest in World Relief Spokane clients. Our volunteers carve out time in their busy schedules and step out of a world that is comfortable to pour into the lives of families who have been uprooted through unimaginable pain. It is not always easy nor glamorous, but it is so deeply needed. We celebrate our volunteers, and we rejoice that we get to live in Spokane, a city that sees the value of welcoming the newcomer!


If you are interested in becoming involved with the work of World Relief, click here for more information.



Spokane’s Refugees: The Security Process

Fawzia is a refugee from Sudan. Refugees must pass through seemingly endless steps before they reach safety in the U.S. Fawzia shared her story about the security process with writers: Ben Shedlock and Lucinda Kay. This story is part of a series on Spokane’s refugees. #RefugeeCrisis #HomeSweetSpokane

Life changed forever in 2001, you know? It got so much harder. I always had to explain to so many people, so many security officers, so many agencies, about my travels, my history and my purpose every single time I wanted to go anywhere.

Maybe you know what I mean.

Life changed forever in 2001. That’s the year I had to run from my own country of Sudan and run to Cairo. I had to go. My father was dead, I’d been shot and my husband had already escaped.

My name is Fawzia; I’m a refugee from Sudan. My chapter is about security.

Life changed for everyone in 2001. I know you suffered. Traveling became hard for you, too. And for many months, America did not accept any refugees like me. When America finally said yes to refugees again, more security asked so many more questions. New agencies asked us:

Why did you come, what has happened to you?

Where is your family?

They asked about security. About war.

America checked our backgrounds, and still, refugees wait many years to find safety in America. When I ran away, I lived in Cairo, in a neighborhood called Mohandiseen. My husband ran to Egypt in 1999, so I went where he was. I was there for 12 years before I could escape to America.

We had no food, so school, no job, no medicine, no government to help us, no government to claim us. I was very sad. But when we don’t have, other people help. When I arrived in Cairo, my husband took me to the United Nations to register as a refugee. I told them why I came and what happened in Sudan. I told them about my family, about security and about war. That meeting took 4 hours. I was afraid to tell them everything. In my country, women don’t always talk. We are shy.

The U.N. rejected my application. They didn’t understand me. I think it’s because I speak Arabic, and they are foreign: they are not Arab, not American. We appealed. They told me to wait two years. I said it’s too long. We went back to the U.N. sixteen times. Each visit was maybe two hours. I would feel happy when I went, but after two or three months, I’d just feel sad. It feels like we had to go to the U.N. one hundred times.

Each time I explained why I came, what happened in Sudan, what happened to my family, about security, about war; but I’m not scared because I am a refugee.

The UN is just the beginning of the process for refugees who come to America. After the UN accepts us, we go to a resettlement support center that works with America. Again, we must explain what happened in our country, what happened to our family, about security and about war.

We give fingerprints so the new agencies like homeland security can check out names. The state department investigates, then Homeland Security interviews every refugee, again. And even after all this time, they can deny the application.

For me, all these meetings took nine years. I was sad, I lived in danger, but at every meeting, I’d feel happy again because someone was listening to me and my history. America accepted my application and sent it to the state department. I went to the International Organization for Migration. I had three meetings. First I had medical tests. Then they asked me what happened in Sudan, where is your family, about security, and about war. The last interview earned us a ride to the airplane.

After the state department received my application, it was sent to one of eight agencies who would help me start a new life in America.

World Relief got my application in 2013.

In 2001, the U.N. told me to wait two years for my appeal, and I said it was too long. Then I took twelve years before I came to America, and told my story many times. Even today, after I have been accepted, I must still explain what happened in Sudan, what happened to my family about security and about war.

For a shy woman, this is a lot to say.