As Ali Kadhum celebrated World Refugee Day at the YWCA on Grant
Street on Sunday, he stopped to tell about a close friend from Mercy
Movement, the organization Kadhum joined in his native Iraq to call for
Monday, June 24, 2013
Extremists killed his friend for speaking out.
feared he would be next. He fled to the United States in 2006 and now
balances his work as a translator with a master’s curriculum at the
University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work. His life is better now,
but when he got here, he felt conflicted.
“I’m selfish, because I
left my country and my people dying day by day,” said Kadhum, who
becomes a U.S. citizen next month. “But at the same time, I want to do
He already has. In 2009, Kadhum became president
of the Buffalo Immigrant Refugee Empowerment Coalition, which supports
and educates immigrants and refugees in Western New York in areas such
as public safety, housing and health.
And on Sunday, the group
marked World Refugee Day with soccer, dancing and food. It was an
opportunity for Buffalo’s immigrants to unite and learn about other
“When you eat with someone, you feel there is a kind of
relationship, kind of friendship,” Kadhum said. “We believe that eating
food together creates a stronger relationship to each other.”
served koubaa – a dish comprising beets, onions and other spices – and
Africans served sambusa, fried pastries filled with anything from
chicken to beef to spiced potatoes, in addition to a wide range of other
cuisines. Groups from different countries performed songs and dances as
the others ate. And the winners of an international soccer tournament
held Saturday were honored.
Omar Sundi, 22, who moved to Buffalo
in 2004, played for the Somalian team and came in third place. Sudan won
the tournament, which was at LaSalle Park, and Iraq was the runner-up.
Twelve teams competed.
Sundi remembered a time in Somalia when playing soccer was not so easy.
was really difficult for us because we didn’t have the kind of soccer
balls that they have here,” he said. “We usually wrap papers and wrap
them together and make it like a soccer ball.”
Kadhum said soccer
helps break down the language barriers between the immigrants, almost as
if it is a language of its own. Though soccer may never rival football
and hockey in Buffalo, Kadhum and others said they like living here and
praised the kindness of Western New Yorkers.
But Kadhum had a familiar complaint: the weather.
“I mean, we used to live in Iraq, which is the same weather in Arizona,” Kadhum said. “But we are OK with not too much snow.”
lauded the educational opportunities in Buffalo. Asmhane Kafe of Sudan
came to the United States 14 years ago and worked for years as a
teaching assistant at Holy Cross Head Start. She’s now switching careers
and attending Erie Community College to enter the medical field.
Lynn Williams, the CEO of the Western New York YWCA, said the refugee
empowerment group holds its board meetings at the YMCA, and some Burmese
girls recently signed up for summer camp there. She said it’s important
for the YWCA to continue its tradition of helping immigrants.
round of immigrants is no different than the round that came after the
wars from Europe,” Williams said. “They’re the next building blocks of