"I tell them, 'I know how you feel.' because I really do," says Obaida Omar, a program manager in Catholic Charities Family and Community Services's (CCFCS) Refugee Services department. As a former refugee, resettling in the US from Afghanistan, Obaida knows better than many of us the struggles her clients go through. Utilizing her unique perspective, she forms close ties with each of her clients as they face the thrilling yet challenging transition of new life and opportunity in the United States.
Born in Afghanistan, Obaida revealed the experience of her and her family’s journey into Pakistan during the Soviet Invasion of the 1980’s. She described the horror of walking through the village she once called home, burning around her, and having to walk through the fields of countless lost souls. After arriving in Pakistan, it took almost seven years for her application to be accepted as a refugee resettling in the United States.
Taking the initiative to excel in a new culture, Obaida watched Sesame Street as a way to learn English; soon after she was able to start school in the 9th grade. "Adapting to cultural perceptions and social norms" were (and remain to this day) her biggest challenges. This is what sparked her passion from a career in nursing to one "helping refugees".
Obaida and her husband, Sabir (whose name means “patience”), were married shortly after she graduated high-school and together they lived in Ithaca where she was a freelance interpreter. Today, they have three children whom she explains are her constant inspiration – especially her son for whom they moved to Rochester for the specialized care he required. Shortly after their arrival, she attended SUNY Brockport for her Baccalaureate in Social Work and came to Family and Community Services as an intern, eventually leading her to full-time employment, and a promotion earlier this year to a Supervisor role.
Five years ago, she brought her children to Afghanistan so they could appreciate how "lucky they are" and experience first-hand how different life was for her.
While talking with Obaida, I constantly noticed her smile; and upon my asking, she simply replied: "God has blessed me." When I asked Obida about her hopes and dreams for the future, she said:
"I Hope For Peace. I Hope That God Brings Peace. No Killing. No War. Hope For a Better Life For New Refugees."
Photo courtesy of Dave Burnet / Digitaz Photography
A quick overview of Family and Community Services