Giving Back Helps Refugee Volunteer Move Forward

Acclimating to a new culture, learning English, finding a job, and becoming part of a community are obstacles all refugees face in their first months in the U.S. Having worked in refugee resettlement for 15 years, I’ve seen countless refugees struggle through the transition, some taking many months to get on their feet.

But every once in a while a refugee comes along who not only takes the challenge head on, but works to help others with their challenges. This is the story of Sadaf Sedgh.

I met Sadaf a few weeks ago on a monitoring visit to HIAS’ partner, Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Los Angeles. She had arrived in the U.S. only six months before.

Growing up in Iran, Sadaf attended a Jewish school and was involved in the local Jewish community. But with time, she watched the lives of Jews in Iran become more difficult; the community dwindled in size and the country underwent political instability. Despite having built a life as a respected teacher with a comfortable living, Sadaf ultimately decided to seek help from HIAS to come to the U.S. “I wanted to come to a country where all people are the same, where religion doesn’t matter,” she told to me.

During the ten years it took to process her application, she dreamt of what life would be like in the U.S.

Soon after arriving in Los Angeles, Sadaf became a JFS volunteer. She shows Iranians how to navigate the difficult paperwork process to bring their relatives over to this country, and provides essential services to other Iranian new arrivals.

“I know how hard it is to leave your hometown, your friends, and everything you know. You have to sell everything to get money to immigrate. You come with just one suitcase. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

That’s where she sees herself making the biggest impact. “You need someone to say, ‘everything is going to be ok,’” she says. “When I first came, I was so confused. I had culture shock. I didn’t have money or a job,” she recalls.

Her vision of the future is what gets her through.  “I tell myself often I will pass all of this. I am hopeful.”

In addition to her volunteer work, Sadaf has already found fulltime job. She is adjusting to the difficult transition from her former career to working in sales. Sadaf views it as a starting point.

Before I left, Sadaf invited me to come back to see her in five years to see her progress. Through her resettlement experience, she has developed a new passion of helping refugees and would like to continue to help the many Iranians who are seeking a safe and stable future.

Recently, her volunteership at JFS turn into a part-time position. She couldn’t be happier. “Even with its challenges, coming to the U.S. was a dream for me. Now working at JFS makes me feel good. I love using my experience to ease the transition for others.” 

Her positive disposition, genuine care, and patience brings comfort to others. Like when she was a teacher, she fosters the strengths of others so they can be independent.

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