Tracy Frank, Published September 25 2012
Starting over: Former Iraqi journalist turns opportunity for future into chance to help others
They were ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘no pork’ because as a Muslim she doesn’t eat pork.
But she learned the language in six months because she knew she needed to be able to read, write and understand English to keep up with her sons, Mohammed Alssaraj, 12, and Zaid Alssaraj, 11.
In fact, before she’d learned English, the boys asked her to sign a paper they brought home from school. They told her it said they were doing really well in reading and the paper was for extra credit. Yassin doubted them but couldn’t argue so she signed it and made a copy for herself. When she found the copy years later she realized it was for detention because the boys had been fighting on the bus.
“They made me work hard to understand every word,” Yassin said. “When we read and write, it’s like we see reality. Without knowledge, you are blind.”
Now, Yassin is a student at Minnesota State Community and Technical College and has plans to study International Studies at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Her dream is to work with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees helping other refugees who have escaped political persecution.
“I want to help people who have no names, to give them names, who have no homes, like my kids, to give them homes, to give them a nationality and to know their rights like how the United Nations helped me,” Yassin said. “I would like to be a part of this, to help others.”
Yassin fled her home in Iraq to Jordan in 1999 after she was persecuted during Saddam Hussein’s reign because she was a journalist advocating for human rights and freedom.
“The reason I escaped and ran away is because if they found me they would have killed me,” she said.
Yassin was in Jordan nearly 10 years before moving to the United States. The decision to leave the Middle East was not an easy one. She had a job as a journalist in Jordan, her children were happy there, and it was an Arab country that shared important common values and traditions with her home country of Iraq, she said.
But to go on living in Jordan, there was no real chance to be secure, she said.
So she took the risk to give her boys a good home, she said.
“I told myself I will take this risk. Maybe I will get it all or I will lose it all,” she said.
Their first few months in the United States were a mix of emotions from confusion and craziness to security and happiness.
Then one day she overheard her children speaking English clearly with their friends outside. She realized that even though she gave up everything in Jordan to start over with nothing in the United States, she did get it all. Her family is secure in their new life, and she has a future for her kids and herself, she said.
While her dream is to help others through the United Nations, Yassin works as a diversity volunteer and advocate at the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center.
“Everyone deserves another chance,” she said, adding that if families have problems, their children have problems, too.
She also volunteers with Cultural Diversity Resources, focusing on youth and helping new refugees adapt to this country, she said.
“I’m glad to help a lot,” she said. “I think this is my mission as a woman from the Middle East who faced a lot of problems. I think everyone has a responsibility.”
Yassin recently won the North Central Region of Soroptimist International of the Americas Women’s Opportunity Award, which recognizes women who are the head of their household and support family members while attending college.
“I’m really honored and really happy for this opportunity,” Yassin said. “The reality of humanity is you are never alone. There are a lot of amazing people who will help you. You are not foreign anymore. You are the girl from this country, and there are a lot of sisters and brothers.”