[VIDEO] In Buffalo, Deaf Refugees Find Hope

By Rachel Nusbaum, HIAS.org

Before Abdullah and Abdisalam were roommates, sharing a modest home on a quiet street in Buffalo, New York, they had something else in common: both men were driven out of their home country, Somalia, by a civil war that had grown increasingly violent.

“I couldn’t even take any clothes or anything. I just had to run,” Abdullah said. He made the difficult decision to leave his two sons behind.

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Both men are refugees resettled in the United States by HIAS. Our local partners at Jewish Family Service of Buffalo & Erie County are helping Abdullah and Abdisalam get settled in their new country—welcoming them along with many other newly arrived refugees over the past year.

All refugees have a few key needs when they arrive in this country: a friendly face to meet them at the airport, a place to live, furniture and food, a phone call home, and a trained caseworker to help guide them through their first days here and provide access to services in their native language.

Like all of our partners, JFS Buffalo staff are very experienced at meeting these initial needs and helping refugees quickly get on their feet in their new community. But, along the way they noticed that some of their refugee clients had a more specific need.

Refugees like Abdullah and Abdisalam, who are Deaf, often struggle more than others, so JFS Buffalo partnered with a local provider, Deaf Access Services, as well as other local institutions, to ensure that they are connected to support services as well as to the local Deaf community.

Now, Abdullah and Abdisalam are learning American Sign Language. For some of the refugees in their class, it is the first time they have learned any formal sign language, opening up new worlds of possibility for communication, connection and self-sufficiency.

Students in the program support and encourage one another. Like Mane, another Deaf refugee who was recently resettled. In Somalia, she was the only one of her siblings who had to stay home and work instead of getting an education.

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“I really wanted to go to school, but I couldn’t go to the hearing school,” Mane said. “I begged my mom, and mom loved me but she wasn’t sure how to manage that.”

With dedicated support from JFS and from each other, the current class is making great progress and optimistic about the road ahead.

“It’s very exciting,” said Abdisalam. “I’m new, but I’m learning. I’m growing into it.”

“If you save one life, you save the world,” JFS Buffalo’s President and CEO Marlene Schillinger said, describing the values that drive their work.

“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. We, as a Jewish community, are building bridges—one person at a time,” said Shillinger.

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