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Cultivating Connection: Rabab's Story

Cultivating Connection: Rabab's Story

Rabab was a member of our latest cohort of the women's Sister Circle program. She told her story at our Third Annual Celebration back in October, and we want to share it with you now. Thanks to your gifts, Rabab found community and belonging at Treetops. 

I’m from Iraq and had to flee in 2006 because of the war. My life and my family’s lives were in danger. When we were in Iraq my brother and mother were kidnapped and my life was threatened. When we fled, fighters caught us when we were on the road, but the American army helped us escape. I fled with my mother and brother and sister to Syria and stayed there around 7 years, but civil war started there and it was no longer safe there either. My mother passed away while we were in Syria, which was very hard, and my sister fled to Europe. That’s when my application with the UN to be resettled was finally accepted. My brother and I came to the United States in 2012 directly to Grand Rapids.

When I came to Grand Rapids I had culture shock for a few years. I was even more depressed, and now I was also lonely and anxious. I didn’t leave the house or talk to other people, it was difficult to make friends and I didn’t want to talk with anyone, including other people from Iraq who reminded me of my experience. My brother took care of everything about our house and utilities because I just couldn’t do anything.

I went to a psychiatrist in Grand Rapids who referred me to Treetops and that’s how I first met Shadia who introduced me to the rest of the Treetops team and to a new friend named Susan.

Susan is my cross-cultural partner. I like Susan very much. She is very humble and respectful while still being very helpful. We spend a lot of time together. We go to the store to shop for clothes and she gives me good advice about what looks good and what doesn’t. She treats me like her sister, not like she’s a volunteer and I’m a refugee. She doesn’t care about differences in culture or religion. She brings her children to visit. Even when I’m traveling, Susan always stays in touch, sending me messages, photos, and videos.

Susan shares life with me whether I am happy and joyful or sad when I’m having a hard time. This friendship has meant very much to me and makes me so grateful for Treetops and how they’ve helped me.

I’ve also gone to many workshops with the women’s group, and afterward, I always feel happy. The workshop on immigration and housing was very helpful and made me feel empowered––like I could stand up for myself and my rights better.

Through Treetops I went to ArtPrize and the support Treetops has given me gave me a chance to draw and be creative. Now I’m inspired to have an art exhibition of my own work.

Through Treetops this past year, my life is changing and I’m happier. I am excited when I hear we have a meeting and I can come together with other women. I like learning at our workshops and I like seeing the team at Treetops––they respect me and give me advice and support. They generously give me gifts and celebrated my wedding with me. Now, I feel more like a human, I feel respected, I feel like a woman again, I feel alive, and I am closer with God and want to be active. Things aren’t 100% but I feel 90% now.

I am already working as a volunteer. I help by translating for others and I hope to work with Treetops to support other ladies. Treetops is number one in Grand Rapids in supporting women. Because Treetops feels what women feel and they understand how to support women better than any other organization. I hope that Treetops is around a long time to support women and families. I’ve brought other ladies to Treetops so they can be part of the group too.

Sometimes it’s easy to be afraid that there’s not enough to go around, so when you get something good you don’t share it. But I believe that it’s important to be generous and my experience with Treetops has been so good that I want to share it with others. 

You also can be welcoming and help refugees like me feel like they belong.

You can:

Thank you for what you are all doing to welcome refugees. Thank you to each one of you that supports Treetops. Thank you to everyone in the collective––staff and volunteers. And thank you for letting me share my story.