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A new location, a new addition, and a fresh start

Omar Alawadh, with three of his children, from left: Taiba, 4, Salman, 2 months, and Abduljabbar, 6. The family fled the war-torn city of Homs, Syria, and were resettled in Toledo last year. This year, it’s time to settle in, Mr. Alawadh said. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER

Omar Alawadh, with three of his children, from left: Taiba, 4, Salman, 2 months, and Abduljabbar, 6. The family fled the war-torn city of Homs, Syria, and were resettled in Toledo last year. This year, it’s time to settle in, Mr. Alawadh said.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER

After a year of life-changing events, a local Syrian refugee family is looking for 2016 to bring routine and a sense of normalcy.

In the past year, they left the Middle East, moved to Toledo, and welcomed a baby, all monumental events on their own.

Together, it’s a combination that leads them to hope for stability in the new year.

Omar Alawadh, his wife, Hiyam, sons Hammam, 9, and Abduljabbar, 6, and daughter Taiba, 4, touched down at Toledo Express Airport in September, the third refugee family to arrive in the city that month. They are among the 54 Syrian refugees to settle in Toledo through the agency US Together since 2014.

Nearly four months later, the family is entering 2016 with a new addition — a baby boy, Salman, born early in the morning on Dec. 13. He is named for a friend his parents met in Toledo: He has been instrumental in their adjustment, helping them with rides and other errands.

The name has its roots in Arabic, meaning safety or to be safe.

The baby, the first in their family to become an American citizen, was not guaranteed to come into the world in Toledo. Mr. Alawadh said he had heard of pregnant women not being allowed to go to their assigned refugee countries until after giving birth.

Mr. Alawadh knows Salman’s birth in the United States is meaningful, for the child’s future success and immediate physical health. Ms. Alawadh said it was a relief to give birth in the United States, and found the medical care here was much better than what she would have received in Jordan.

Though she is hardly new to motherhood, Ms. Alawadh feels the loss of the support system she had at home raising their older children. Now, she is relying on friends made since coming to Toledo, women who have also arrived recently as refugees, including one who accompanied her to the hospital.

“Here, I’m finding it more difficult [to raise a child]. Because in Syria, my mother would have been able to take care of him, and [Omar’s] mother too. She was living with us,” she said in Arabic. “Now I feel that I’m raising a child from square one. Everything has changed for me.”

They’ve sent pictures of the baby to family back home, but it’s not the same.

Taiba, 4, and her brother Salman. THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER

Taiba, 4, and her brother Salman.
THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER

A new U.S. citizen

Salman’s citizenship gives the family a stronger connection to their new country, his father said. As refugees, the other five members are in the process of getting permanent resident cards, or green cards. The father wonders if things will be easier for Salman than for his older siblings because he was born in the United States.

It’s been nearly five years since they’ve done the baby routine: the crying, the midnight feedings, the diapers. The parents worried that Taiba, who had enjoyed the somewhat spoiled status of youngest until now, would be a little put out with the spotlight shift that comes with a new baby.

Not so. The young girl, like her older brothers, is enthralled with her new sibling and loves to hold him and help her mother with his bathing and other care. All three siblings, their parents say, “are overjoyed” with Salman.

The joy that a baby brings adds another factor to the complicated resettlement process facing refugees making a new life in the United States.

On move-in day, they said they were jet-lagged and a little overwhelmed but relieved knowing they finally had arrived in a safe place. Ms. Alawadh, then very pregnant, moved into her new home looking weary but described her first night in America as one at peace.

A long journey

They began 2015 in Jordan, where they lived after fleeing the barrage of shelling in Syria in 2012. They were still months away from the news that their refugee application had been approved and they were heading to Toledo, some 6,000 miles from their city of Homs.

After the flurry of activity upon arrival — there was a lease to sign, immunizations to get, and children to enroll in school — they are beginning to settle into life.

So much has changed in the past year, and yet old worries prevail. Money is still a concern. Mr. Alawadh, a carpenter in Syria, was not allowed to work legally in Jordan. Though he has a work permit in Toledo, he has found it difficult to find full-time work with limited English. He is confident he can work as a foreman on a construction site or for a carpentry business but needs to master the language first. He is working part time, first as a landscaper and now for a doctor who is expanding a clinic.

Mr. Alawadh is taking English language classes in Toledo, but finds it hard to study and care for the family after a long day of work.

“And looming above your head as you work are the electricity bill, the rent, child-care expenses,” he said in Arabic. “You have to go work so you can keep up with the bills. Where are you going to earn enough between [expenses] here and there?”

One thing working in their favor is Toledo’s relative affordability. Mr. Alawadh has a friend from Homs who was resettled in California but is considering a move somewhere less expensive, such as Toledo.

Settling in

The children are learning English through technology, including smart-phone apps chirping vocabulary words for them to repeat and YouTube videos singing nursery rhymes. The boys are in school. Taiba will enroll next year. Abduljabbar, the younger son, is learning the language the fastest. His parents guess it’s because he was younger when coming over, though Mr. Alawadh expresses concern they will totally forget Arabic one day.

“Certainly, everything is different. But thank God, now we’re very comfortable. But the first two months since we came we really felt that we were foreigners in this land,” Ms. Alawadh said. “The land changed on us. The weather was different. The people, the dwellings, everything changed. Of course, the conditions were going to be different. But now, thank God, little by little, we are getting used to the atmosphere.”

For 2016, there are no big, sweeping goals, Mr. Alawadh said. Just to continue to work on English and securing more stable employment. He is working toward getting a driver’s license. He did not pass a recent test, but he had plans to take it again. A license would be another step toward normalcy and independence, to make trips to the store or take the kids to a park where they can play.

“When it comes down to it, our move here is all for the kids,” he said. “They’re young, they’ll learn. It’s good, they’ll have a future here.“

Staff writer Hasan Dudar contributed to this report.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

This article first appeared in The Blade and toledoblade.com on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016.