by Wasan Abu-Baker
Malak is a five-year-old girl who was born in Aleppo in Syria in 2010. A few months before the war in Syria started, her mom Iman and dad Saeed had a big celebration when she was born. Malak means ‘Angel’ in Arabic. Iman named her Malak after her aunt Malak because she wanted her to carry her name and be as her aunt.
Malak was born into a highly educative house! Iman is a lawyer; she went to law school in Aleppo and started working. Saeed was born and raised in Aleppo; he graduated from Aleppo University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Before leaving Syria, he was a well known contractor and developer, successful businessman, and active community member. Saeed loved to travel and visited several countries around the world.
The war in Syria started when Malak was seven months old. Her parents felt unsafe staying in Syria, so they fled to Egypt, then Jordan. They stayed for a few months. The war wasn’t on their mind. They thought it was a temporary situation. Saeed thought he would go back to Aleppo when the war stopped, but they heard that the war was getting worse.They looked and asked around and the United States was their choice. This country was built by immigrants and refugees, and for a long time United States respected human rights and protected the dignity of people. There are different opportunities to succeed, and he has family there. They applied for tourist visas to America and arrived in Fresno, California. When Saeed, Iman, and Malak arrived in the USA, their journey started with living with their relative for three years. They helped to adapt to the American life style, making friends, going to school to learn English. This is what Iman and Saeed did to rebuild their lives.
Malak went to preschool with her relatives, and she learned how to speak English at a young age. She is making friends. Malak wasn’t able to see that she has a special story. She has a different story from others here. Malak is the first Syrian child who lived in Fresno almost five years ago.
The war was not something easy on Iman and Saeed, but both of them are great examples for strong parents who are making their lives only to raise Malak to live a healthy, happy life in Fresno. Malak still didn’t know what Syria was. Her dad wishes one day to take Malak back to visit Syria. Iman hopes that Malak can meet her aunts and uncles one day!Malak’s favorite doll is the American doll. Her name makes her special. She is a happy child making friends easily and nice with people. Malak goes to kindergarten in Clovis. I met Iman two years ago at MY DEEN, an Islamic community center and non-profit organization that provides different services to the community especially for the kids and the youth. Community centers always bring people together. They also provide people with safe places to share their own stories and accept people the way they are.
I am a passionate person who likes to help people. I love my community; I care about people, and put all of my time and efforts and those of my family to empower people and to be a productive community member. I questioned Iman a lot about why she was not getting a job, going to school, or getting a car. Iman saw it as very difficult to accomplish and reach. I encouraged her to work on herself and never give up. Iman lost everything and that’s how she feels, but she still has a lot to offer.
As a community member, I helped Iman and Saeed get a car, a job, and a house. It wasn’t easy to do, but through other great community members, Iman received support and help from many people. Iman gained her strength from our friendship, and I always encouraged her to keep going no matter the difficulties. Iman went to school and started learning English quickly. Malak’s family has friends who love them and care for them.
Malak parents were worried about how she could preserve her Muslim identity and Syrian roots and at the same time integrate to the American society. Malak’s parents’ main goal is to teach Malak Islam and reading Quran. The Islamic Centers in Fresno are providing resources, and the Islamic environment helps the new generation preserve their own identity and live healthy. Three main things that we all need: Faith, Friends, Family.
Malak goes to school here in the US, but you never know when she may be able to visit Syria one day.
Check out more immigrant and refugee stories in KRL’s Tales of Diversity category. If you would like to learn more about how to help Syrian refugees in the Fresno area, one way would be to visit Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM)’s special webpage.