Mohammed Alhamwi never thought he would have to flee his home. His family ran a prosperous business making purses in Damascus, Syria, and he was a typical 18-year-old. He had a job, a car, and a plan to earn a certificate in technology and open his own cell phone business.
All of that was upended in 2011. What began as a relatively small protest in a nearby city was met with violence by the government, igniting a civil war that, as of today, still engulfs Syria and has displaced some 12 million people.
“They bombed cities and killed innocent people. By August 2012, our neighborhood was no longer safe. We stopped going to work. All the stores closed, even grocery stores, and we did not have electricity or water.”
Mohammed’s family fled to Jordan. Not permitted to work at that time, they got by on financial assistance from the UNHCR as refugees in the city of Amman. They lived in limbo for two years, hoping that peace would return to Syria and they could someday go home.
Then Mohammed’s father got a life-changing phone call: They had been invited to resettle in the USA. Sixteen months and many interviews, background checks, and health exams later, Mohammed landed in Indianapolis with his parents, sisters, and 91-year-old grandmother.
“We were tired and scared about what would come next. No one in my family spoke any English. We followed everyone off the plane, hoping we would know where to go from there. When we stepped out of the gate into the Indianapolis airport, we were surprised to be welcomed by 20 people! We could not believe that all those people were waiting for us.”
Exodus Refugee Immigration had recruited a volunteer Welcome Team from Irvington Presbyterian Church. The team showed up to greet the Alhamwis and help them settle into their new lives in Indiana. Mohammed and his family got help from Exodus with housing, employment preparation, and green card applications, while the Welcome Team from Irvington Presbyterian became part of their family. Mohammed says, “they have been with us every step of the way.”
Since arriving in the US, Mohammed has fully devoted himself to moving forward. He dove into learning English right away, earned his GED through The Excel Center in just two short years, and in 2019 was awarded the Goodwill Education Achievement Award. He also discovered an unexpected new passion: helping others through healthcare. Mohammed completed an externship at Eskenazi Health in 2018, where he impressed those around him with his willingness to learn and was hired on as a Certified Medical Assistant. With support through a Goodwill McClelland Scholarship, Mohammed has enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College. His goal is to earn his associate’s degree and then complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“Becoming a nurse was something I had never thought about when I was in Syria. I discovered my passion for helping others when I came to the United States because of all the people who helped me and my family during our time of need.”
After being displaced by war, Mohammed is once again working, studying, and pursuing goals for the future. It’s a chance he almost didn’t get. His family was just the second to enter the US after a federal judge blocked then-Governor Mike Pence’s order to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana.
“I was surprised to learn that Indiana’s governor had tried to stop Syrian refugees like me from coming to Indiana. I would have never guessed this from the warm welcome I received.”
Mohammed was one of about 12,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in 2016, before a 2017 executive order indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the US. A series of court battles only slightly softened the ban, and in 2018 the US admitted just 62 refugees from Syria. Mohammed says that for him, the situation is heartbreaking. His uncle began the clearance process to come to the US in 2016, but has been delayed ever since.
Despite the increasing struggles Syrian refugees now face, Mohammed says that from the moment a group of smiling strangers met his family at the airport, he has always felt welcome in Indiana.
“As a refugee, I do not feel any different than any American citizen living here. America has opened up its doors for me, and I hope it continues to open its doors for other refugees.”