Iraqi Refugee's Mom Finds Houston Has A Big Heart

Iraqi Refugee's Mom Finds Houston Has A Big Heart
Photo courtesy of Dario Lipovac

Nahlah Qasim Radhi got the call this afternoon. For at least the next six months, she'll be able to stay in Houston with her ailing son, who lies in a coma at Memorial Hermann hospital.

Radhi hadn't seen him since he fled Iraq more than a year ago. When he was critically injured in a car accident here on August 26, she thought she might never see him again.

Marwan Hamza, 22, resettled in Houston in January after his work as a translator for U.S. troops forced him from Iraq as a refugee. As Hair Balls first reported two days after the crash, Hamza's friends here -- led by his resettlement agency, YMCA International, and its refugee director Dario Lipovac -- scrambled to win his mother a temporary visa to be at his side.

With help from the hospital and Congressman Al Green's office, the unlikely task was completed in about a week, and Radhi arrived in Houston on September 11. Since then she has remained almost constantly at Hamza's side.

"To be with my son is the best thing for me," Radhi told Hair Balls through a translator. "I wish I had a room at the hospital, so I could stay with him 24/7."

Just having a place to stay at all quickly became a problem. Radhi and her family paid for her visa, flight and first week at a hotel. But the money was quickly running out. So Lipovac and others hit the phones once again.

Radhi describes her son as a young man who loves everyone around him, friend or otherwise, and wants to help them all. She says he began his work with the U.S. army to help with the problems that poor translating was causing at the start of the war, with rampant confusion and mistaken attacks and arrests. But as the years went on, some people began calling Hamza a traitor, and the number of places he could safely go got smaller and smaller. Eventually his only choice was to leave the country.

Radhi spoke to Hamza nearly every day after he relocated to Houston and says her son was happy with his new life. Lipovac says Hamza, who had found work as a security guard, was constantly on call to help his fellow refugees.

At the YMCA offices this afternoon, Radhi learned that the good will had again come back around. Mandy Kao, a landlord with Titan Management Corporation who volunteers much of her time and money to help refugees, agreed to donate an apartment, free of charge, for six months.

Just after hearing the news, Radhi was visibly relieved. Looking weary, she shuffled into Lipovac's office and gave him a hug, addressing him in slow, deliberate English.

"Thank you for everything you do for me," she said.


Update:

Hair Balls just heard back from Kao, who says the decision to donate the apartment came easily after Lipovac called looking for help.

"If people need it and we have it available, we donate it," she says. "If I were to have restaurants, we would donate food."

Kao estimates that about 50 families of refugees live at her two properties in Houston. Finding safe, affordable housing for refugee families with no work or credit histories in America is among the most difficult tasks for resettlement agencies.

The complexes that successfully take in refugees often pitch in with the resettlement process as well.

In addition to sponsoring fundraisers, Kao's management group has helped with things such as job placement, resume critiques and networking. And this isn't the first time Kao has foregone rent.

"The numbers don't work. But if you're trying to make a difference, and you have housing, then you can make a difference," she says. "You have to do it with your heart. You can't do it with your head."


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