Volunteer Corner

Perspectives from our Community — Abdel-Rahman Zakieh

For the past 6 months I have had the pleasure of working with Hakam Shaikh Subh and his two little boys, Anas (9 y/o) and Yusuf (6 y/o). They are Syrians coming from Hama (Syria’s fourth largest city) and I serve as their mentor, but in reality, they are as much my mentors as I am theirs.

Anas (9) and Yusef (6)

The first thing I noticed when meeting Hakam and his family were the wide smiles, welcoming attitude, and generosity with which they immediately treated me: completely opposite the way some of our politicians and administration treat and talk about them. The difference between how they describe refugees on the news and the reality of the situation that I experience firsthand with this family and others is just shocking. They simply want what we all take for granted: safety, stability, and the opportunity for their children to succeed.

While a premed student at Loyola University Chicago, I had the opportunity to help Hakam and the kids with English proficiency on a weekly basis. It is really a mutual relationship as I help Hakam with his English while he helps me with my Arabic. I loved seeing the kids improve throughout the weeks and they have been doing very well in school.

By far, the most difficult trial has been helping Hakam find a sustainable job. He worked as a bus driver and has over 15 years of driving experience. As a result, he wanted nothing more than to get behind the wheel again. One of my primary goals this summer was to collect enough money to help buy him a car. By the grace of God, after two months, my friends and I had collected enough money to buy him a 2005 Dodge Caravan. This will not only give him and his family more independence, but hopefully open the road literally to future work opportunities in rideshare and delivery services.

Even though this is one of the hardest and most stressful times of their lives as they establish themselves, I have no doubt that with hard work and patience they will overcome. I take comfort in knowing that the kids actually want to learn. Yusuf and Anas in particular, love and excel in math; they blaze through their math homework like no tomorrow. I find this comforting because this indicates to me that everything is there: the intellect, the drive, and the passion to learn. With a good guide to help them cross the language barrier and a mentor to help find Hakam a stable job, there truly is no limit to what they can achieve. I just hope I can continue to serve as both for this family and many more to come.

Abdel-Rahman at his white coat ceremony
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