Iraqi refugee speaks to SJ middle school students

An Iraqi refugee spoke to a group of students recently about his experiences in Iraq and his family’s journey to the United States. 

Moustafa Aldouri spoke to about 125 seventh- and eighth-graders at DeMasi Middle School on April 22 after being invited by teacher Dave Austin. 

Aldouri, who came to the United States in 2008 at the age of 18, now works with refugees at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden as a case manager of the Refugee and Immigration Services program. 

When he came to the U.S., Aldouri said he didn’t know any English. Now, he’s a semester away from a business degree at Rowan College at Burlington County, has attended real estate school and owns Mobile Accessories in Berlin, in addition to working at Catholic Charities. 

“When you meet someone who doesn't speak English, they’re not scary, they’re just like us, but they just grew up in a different place,” Aldouri told the students. “It’s really hard to be in that position; it’s a big transition. Maybe you should become friends with them.” 

Aldouri told the students of being kidnapped for nine days after the start of the Iraq war, and the burglary of his family’s house. After the break-in, they fled to Syria where family members were not allowed to work, which caused hardship. 

About two years later, they immigrated to the U.S. He and his family now live in Moorestown. A 2014 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees placed the number of refugees worldwide at 14.4 million. 

More than half of those were children younger than 18 years old. The Evesham Township School District’s social studies curriculum includes information on refugees and immigration, but seeing a real-life example was rewarding for the students and teachers. 

 “The kids have read about these topics and we’ve talked about it; it’s current and controversial,” said Austin, who volunteered last summer to teach English at Catholic Charities. That's when he met Aldouri. 

“Once I spent time with these refugee kids, it hit an emotional place for me. I want to try to connect my kids with the bigger world and for them to see this is not just something they read about, it’s right in our neighborhood," he said. 

“I really liked the book we read in class called ‘A Long Walk to Water’ about refugees,” said Kathryn Bsales, a seventh-grader at DeMasi whose grandfather came to America from Syria. 

“Having someone come in brought it to a whole other level and made it much more real. It impacted me.” 

by Celeste E. Whittaker

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