HOUSTON – As a Muslim, Iraqi and single-mother, Ghada Bayati first steps into the United States as a refugee eight years ago followed a bitter war in which she lost nearly everything.
“I had to start from zero. I had to worry about paying the bill and rent. I needed to learn the language and get acclimated in society. I was worried 24 hours a day on how to provide for my kids,” she told Fusion.net on Monday, May 30.
Bayati and her three children came to the US eight years ago as refugees. She witnessed her husband get murdered in front of her during the Iraq War in 2003.
Noticing stares in the streets, she decided to change her appearance to fit into society.
“I started to change little details to get people to accept me as a Muslim refugee woman in society here. For example. I stopped wearing dark hijabs and started wearing colorful ones,” said Bayati.
She did not change her beliefs. Rather she found a middle ground that best suits her new home in Texas.
“I didn’t change my personality or my beliefs, but rather I changed little details that would help Americans understand more about me and not be afraid of me,” she said.
Now Bayati, 48, is helping 24 newly arrived refugee families from Iraq, Syria, Burma, and elsewhere to become-self sufficient in the US as a client service assistant at Amaanah Refugee Services, a nonprofit in Houston, Texas.
“Now I am trying to help refugees heal and become an effective part of society through my work at Amaanah,” said Bayati, who has a university degree in business management from Iraq.
Amaanah’s mission is to integrate resettled refugees into their new homes and communities.
“We believe that refugees are one of the most underserved and most vulnerable group out there,” said Ghulam Kehar, the CEO and founder of Amaanah Refugee Services.
Eight years after arriving into the US, Bayati urged new refugees to accept positive changes in their way of life.
“Always remember that you are coming from a different culture to a new one. So don’t expect people to change for your sake. You as a refugee need to change and be accepting of the new culture you are now a part of,” Bayati said.
Learning the language will help, but one needs to take it a step further.
“Try to learn the language and the accent of the state you live in. That will help people relate better to you,” she said.
“The minute I signed the U.N. papers to become a refugee in the U.S. nine years ago, I started learning the language and the culture. That does not mean that I forget my language or my culture, but rather I carried it with me to my new homeland.”
She added that children should be taught the best of both cultures.
“Plant the positive seed within your children, show them the positivities in both cultures,” said Bayati.
“Accept change—accept other cultures as much as you want others to accept yours.”
“I join my neighbors during all the holidays, whether they are Christians, Jews or people with no religion,” she said. Bayati and her family join their neighbors in celebrating all holidays.
“My neighbors reach out and invite me to their celebrations and holidays. Of course I attend,” said Bayati.