For Nafia Al Daghir,60, coming to the USA was not just a dream, but an utter necessity to keep his mental sanity and for the safety of his family. Born in early 60s, Nafia grew up in an Iraq that witnessed the worst times in the country’s history, when war, internal conflict, tough economic sanctions, embargoes, and American intervention for nearly five decades saw unending suffering among the Iraqi citizens.
The horrors of war
Added to this, Nafia’s work as a head video journalist in a leading international news network in Iraq made him financially stable, but emotionally drained by the end of his twelve-year stint. “Filming the damage caused to my country - the killing, violence, bombings, watching the sufferings of my people and the wreck of our heritage buildings and sites are all archived in my mind. I cannot get rid of these memories, and they will be with me till my end,” said Nafia.
The government in Iraq had forbidden Iraqis to move to the United States because of the strained relations between the countries, so while growing up in the 1970s, it was Nafia's dream to come to the US, and slowly the dream turned into a need. The violence and the unstable situation in Iraq deeply affected Nafia's life and was the main reason for him to move.
Nafia not only lost his three brothers in the chaos but also as many as 20 cousins and uncles had gruesome deaths. Fifteen were lost at the same spot in a bomb blast.
“I’ve lost friends, neighbours, and their memories, the awful way that they were killed, and the unjustness meted out to them will never leave my heart and my mind. What hurts actually is to be oppressed by your people. So, all this, coupled with the extent of the damage that you witness while filming and doing your job is actually a huge baggage to carry."
For him, the decision to move to the US to give his children and family a chance for a safe, dignified life, was the right decision according to Nafia. “My girls are respected here, my family is safe, we have freedom and there is humanity and dignity. Even if you do nothing, you feel important because you are treated like a human,” he confirmed.
Nafia moved to the US in 2015 and, within a span of six years, he has seen his two eldest daughters Rania and Russa through college, both majoring in the pure science subject of Chemistry. Russa has been accepted into a Pharmacy School and will start her course in 2022. His third daughter is studying in college, while the youngest, who he refers to as the ‘baby’, is actually in High School.
The family has recently bought a house in Gibsonville where they live with Nafia’s elder sister, who retired as a Professor in Iraq. The entire family has been working really hard in the past years to see these positive developments through.
Nafia’s wife Muna, is taking courses to become a pharmacy technician while continuing to work, and Nafia is juggling two jobs to do the best he can for his family.
It is not only his immediate family that has gained from his generosity. Nafia continues to work closely with immigrants and refugees who relocated to the Traid cities, in all possible ways.
"He is a really special man who loves his family and strives to help other refugees through their transition into the Traid community. If I ever need anything, he is already ready to lend a hand," confirmed Leilani Roughton, the Executive Director of the New Arrivals Institute.
Nafia does this because he feels that there are certain elements, or rules that run a country and this is something that you can see. "I felt like a human, I felt welcomed in the USA, unlike in my country where even though I was born and surrounded by my tribe, I studied, and served the country, I was given no respect. I was practically chased away."
Nafia is very happy with the way the US welcomed him. "The people at Church World Services took great care of us and our needs when we first landed and then people at the New Arrivals Institute took over and they are simply fantastic. They evaluated our certificates so the girls could start school.
“NAI helped if there was a shortage with food, and they gave me a chance to do some paid work for them, that really helped when you are initially settling in and I am grateful for their continued support,” he said.
Nafia started working with NAI in 2016, and continues to help with refugees from Syria, Sudan, and other Arabic speaking countries. “Lynn, Leilani, Chad, Kristian, Chealy and all at NAI are like my family. They are a great organisation and a wonderful lot to work with,” he smiled.
But like most immigrants seeking asylum, Nafia and his family have had to surmount several challenges, and with the profession Nafia had, as a war correspondent, he found it really difficult to find a suitable job in the Traid. So, while he was happy with the schools for his young daughters, the low taxes, and cost of living, among other benefits of North Carolina, he could not find a suitable job for himself.
“When you want to plant a plant, you need to choose the right season to plant. Similarly, when you want to practice your job, you need to go to the right place to practice the trade. The US is very big and I was advised to come to North Carolina by a friend and there are things you learn about the place when you start living here that Google cannot tell you. So, for a war journalist, this is not the place and I couldn’t find a job that could use my skills.
“I was advised by friends to travel to DC or New York because it’s easier to find a job. Since I was with an international news agency, I was known by journalists in the US. But even though I had my networks in place, I chose to be with the family because it was difficult for them to manage four daughters without me. My elder ones were teenagers and it was not easy to leave the family behind when they were struggling to cope in the new environment," he said.
“I left the horrors of conflict and war and came here, and I sometimes think I am imagining the quietness here. I spend a lot of time hiking, jogging, or in the gym, to make up for the many years during my youth when I was forced to join compulsory army training and fight wars,” he says.
So, is Nafia happy now? Nafia says he is satisfied, because he does not look at happiness as a stage when you are smiling or laughing. Instead, happiness for him is a long period of a good life, the accomplishment of your goals. “Happiness means you see your family happy. What I can say is that I’m satisfied, and satisfaction is a part of happiness…
What will your advice for success be, for the new immigrants? Nafia speaks from his experience: “In the new life that I have in the US, my advice to the new immigrants is to make the most of the opportunity. You need to seek qualifications and knowledge if you want to move ahead. There will be competition and if you want to get better jobs, you need to get better education.
“I feel proud of my daughters and I was expecting that because I raised them. I know their ability, and I expect that they will do more in the future and they will,” concludes a proud father who fought really hard, took several risks, suppressed his ambitions and made several sacrifices to give his daughters the future they truly deserve.