written by Molly Crouch
Salah and I sit down in the club house of his apartment complex (he asked that his name be changed for his protection). An Ahwazi Arab refugee, Salah fled Iran and lived in Syria and Lebanon before coming to the United States. Though his home is rife with problems, he has fond memories of growing up in Iran where his father was a prominent sheik in the region. Salah remembers walking the family’s wheat farm and watching his father graft figs as they went. His love of nature remains even now.
“I learn a lot from nature—bird and trees,” says Salah who enjoys gardening and feels fulfilled by his employment at a local garden center.
Salah recounts how he went to jail at 17 for arguing with a teacher about Iranian history in his geography class. “We have a history problem in my country,” he says. After his brother was killed, many of Salah’s family fled the country. One brother immigrated to Sweden and Salah hoped to join him there. So when he was told that he had received humanitarian parole to come to the United States, Salah initially refused.
“I called my brother and told him I would wait and join his family in Sweden. He said, ‘You’re going to find a good life in the United States, a better life. Go.’”
Salah arrived in Virginia with no family or network. “I just wanted to face life by myself,” he remembers. When he was referred by a friend to International Neighbors in 2022, he was deeply depressed and wasn’t leaving his apartment. International Neighbors helped him secure employment, apply for rental assistance with United Way and avoid eviction. After a setback last winter, Salah is again on his feet. He has been matched with a Great Neighbor Guide and is actively saving money for a moped to transport him to and from work (an 8-mile journey he sometimes takes by foot at the end of a shift if public transportation is no longer running).
“I believe that life isn’t bad, it’s just a bad day,” he says.
“There is always light. I love this country. It is magic. And I love International Neighbors. One day, I want to help International Neighbors because they deserve it.”
Ways International Neighbors has assisted Salah in 2023:
- Helped him avoid imminent eviction and homelessness
- Facilitated Salah’s new hire process at a local garden center
- Applied for SNAP benefits from Social Security and got him approved for expedited processing
- Connected him with food deliveries from Loaves and Fishes
- Connected him with a Great Neighbor Guide couple who are now checking in with him on a weekly basis
- Provided information about the Charlottesville Free Clinic so that he could address an urgent dental issue that was causing him tremendous pain and disrupting his sleep
- With help from instructional videos provided by our partner, UVA CCU, provided him with counseling about money management and the value of creating a budget
- Guided Salah through the process of setting up automatic payments for his rent and utilities, reducing his risk of missing a payment, accruing late fees, and falling into bad standing w/ the property management office
- Help Salah prioritize rest and time for meals