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From refugee to community leader: one woman's story of giving back

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Umniyah works with Carlos M. Peña, Immigration Caseworker at the IRC in Dallas, on her application for citizenship.

Photo: Emily Parker/the IRC

Today, Umniyah Aljandeel submitted her application to become a citizen of the United States of America.

From the first time Umniyah encountered the International Rescue Committee in her home country of Iraq, she was captivated by the organization's work. In 2014, she was resettled as a refugee by the International Rescue Committee in Dallas.

“I know personally how refugees struggle to adjust, and I want to help them,” she recounts, noting the ways that the IRC helped her to achieve self-sufficiency when she was new to the United States.

Umniyah has since become an integral part of the IRC in Dallas family, and now is an interpreter for other clients. She began interpreting in 2015 and continues to interpret today. She recalls how 2015 was a busy year for the IRC, and that 2016 was even busier. However, since then, the number of refugee arrivals in Dallas has drastically changed, and it’s nearly impossible not to notice.

Umniyah with Olga Casaretti, Immigration Caseworker at the IRC in Dallas. Photo: Emily Parker/the IRC

Umniyah has been integral in creating new facets to the role interpreters play in the office. In addition to providing interpretation services, she works as a “cultural broker” with Chaundra Finley-Merrell the IRC in Dallas' Mental Health Program Coordinator, providing linguistic and cultural interpretation for Arabic-speaking women. Cultural brokers represent the cultures from which they hail, and work to help the IRC understand more fully how to best communicate with clients. From this helpful vantage point, program staff are able to more holistically provide services in more effective and contextual ways.

“So many of these women have no idea that what they’re experiencing is normal—and that they don’t have to do it alone.” As a cultural broker, Umniyah helps to combat the stigma against mental health that exists in Iraqi culture.

Umniyah’s passion for her role and understanding of its implications is clear. “I really love to help people, we can make such a difference in our communities if we all pitch in to help," she shares.

Photo: Barbra Keeler/the IRC

For Umniyah, the IRC is distinguished from other organizations because of the intentionality of the work, and the unwavering committment to those served. She notes, “When we set a goal, we achieve it. We will never leave a client on their own. We serve them from the moment they first arrive, until they are self-sufficient.”

Currently, she is in school, studying for a future career in the health field. Umniyah is thriving in Dallas, and she will always support the IRC staff and clients: “Of course I will still be around the IRC office, offering interpretation and helping however I can!”

Congratulations to Umniyah on submitting her application for citizenship!  The International Rescue Committee in Dallas is grateful to work alongside her every day.