After living in isolation for five years as an urban refugee, Hakeem discovered a new community through the JRS and JC:HEM English Teachers Training programme in Aleppo. (JRS)
Aleppo, 25 May 2012 – Forced to flee religious sectarian persecution in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion, Hakeem Nagi lost everything; his friends, family and job. After five years of isolation and loneliness, Hakeem is slowing rebuilding his life thanks to the support and training he received from the Jesuit Refugee Service Deir Vartan centre in Aleppo.

Before leaving Iraq in 2006, Hakeem worked as a translator for the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and as a teacher for seven years. It was only in 2011 – after finishing the JRS/Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins course and teaching English as second language  – that Hakeem finally found employment at the very same Deir Vartan centre.

It has been a long and difficult journey for Hakeem. Prior to his flight from Iraq, he was arrested, which Hakeem attributes to the fact of being a Sunni Muslim, the minority which ruled the country for years. Upon arrival in Damascus he lived alone for six months, again without friends, family or employment.

Before settling down in Aleppo, he moved to the nearby town of Izaz in northern Syria. But to no avail, until he heard about the JRS centre.

“I tried to make friends but my emotional problems made it difficult. I was virtually isolated from everyone. I was looking for something to change my life when I heard about the JRS centre and its services, so I decided to visit”, Hakeem said.

After meeting the Education assistant and gaining a better understanding about the services offered for refugees, Hakeem enrolled in the certificate course for Teaching English as a Second Language, organised in cooperation with a number of US universities. This turned out to be the new lease on life Hakeem was looking for.

“I [still] had no family or friends and sometimes felt quite desperate; so it was a really exciting opportunity to come into contact with others. The teacher, Mr Yahya, was helpful and trustworthy, and the teachers’ group was great”, said Hakeem.

“We worked as a team in spite of the differences in our ages, nationalities and religious affiliations. We were all treated fairly; we truly worked as a family. The course gave me a routine and helped me to overcome my isolation, shyness and confusion”, he continued.

“Coming to the centre I feel like I’m coming home to my family. I have started to put my problems in Iraq behind me. I enjoy teaching my students and feel confident when they’re enthusiastic and ambitious to learn”, Hakeem added.

Years of lonely hopelessness finally seemed to be coming to an end for Hakeem. He has new friends, a new job, and the beginnings of a new life. But unrest in Syria is a sharp reminder of the fragility of his new situation.

Fearing for his safety if forced to return to Iraq, Hakeem also worries about losing his job and friends here.

“I would like to stay in Syria”, he concludes.

Countries Related to this Region
Jordan, Syria, Turkey