Ali Kadhum Portrait.

Once in Their Shoes

The Story of Ali Kadhum

For Ali Kadhum, his home in Iraq and the community where he was born and raised was everything. Ali attended university in Baghdad and became a middle school teacher. He was also a loving father and community leader. When the Iraq War started in 2003 after a United States-led coalition overthrew the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, many people including Ali were affected by violence and suffering.

Ali teaching in Iraq.

Ali teaching at a middle school in Iraq.

In response to the war, Ali joined the “Mercy Movement”, which allowed civil activists like himself to work with local hospitals for the safety and education of the people around him during the war. He also provided mediating support to overcome some of the common challenges that came with the war, which included trying to build peaceful relationships between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens and humanitarians like himself.

 

Ali working with the Mercy Movement in Iraq.

But when the Iraq War continued to spread through Iraq, he was forced to flee to neighboring Iran and Syria while seeking refugee status.  He also provided mediating support to overcome some of the common challenges that came with the war, which included trying to build peaceful relationships between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens and humanitarians like himself.

Iraq.

Ali and his family in Iraq.

But when the Iraq War continued to spread through Iraq, he was forced to flee to neighboring Iran and Syria while seeking refugee status.  He also provided mediating support to overcome some of the common challenges that came with the war, which included trying to build peaceful relationships between U.S. soldiers and Iraqi citizens and humanitarians like himself.

Iran(left) and Syria(right).

Ali and fmaily in the U.S. 

After 2 years of waiting for international and national approval, background checks, and health checks, Ali received his visa to resettle in the United States. Not only did Ali have to deal with the challenges he faced in the war, he had to deal with the refugee resettlement process that can be very lengthy. The resettlement process made Ali very appreciative the moment he stepped off the plane and arrived in Buffalo, NY, the place he and his family would start rebuilding their lives after so much sacrifice.

Buffalo, NY.

Ali and some friends at World Refugee Day.

Ali quickly began to learn new systems and social dynamics of the U.S. – finding new work, securing housing, and helping his children succeed in a new school environment. For Ali and his wife, part of overcoming his struggles was obtaining a degree. Today Ali’s wife is finishing her final months of study to become a nurse practitioner. Ali completed his MSW at the University at Buffalo and began work at BestSelf Behavioral Health as a mental health counselor, where one of his many passions is to help refugees that are now in the situation that he once was—learning to live a new life in Buffalo.

Ali at BestSelf .

Ali at BestSelf Behavioral Health where he works as a mental health counselor.

Since beginning work with BestSelf in 2014, Ali has been assisting people that are in the same shoes that he once was, by finding housing, jobs and building a welcoming community. Ali also encourages Buffalo’s New Americans to persevere through their struggles and to celebrate their backgrounds. Ali stresses the importance of celebrating diversity and culture with one another through food, songs, and sports – specifically soccer. He founded Buffalo’s annual World Refugee Day, where refugees and families from Western New York come together and celebrate diversity. Ali’s favorite part of this day is “Bring a dish, and build a community”.

Ali’s favorite part of World Refugee Day is “Bring a dish, and build a community”
Men playing soccer at World Refugee Day.

Men playing soccer at World Refugee Day.

Authors: Owen Bitnun and Noah Wadhams

Editor: Jessica Scates

Design: Nicole Little