In 2013, Wadhah and Najla Al-Shargabi narrowly escaped death when militants bombed their house and family printing business in southern Yemen. Homeless, jobless, and with two young sons, they relied on family members to survive amidst a backdrop of violent civil war. “You can’t imagine how bad it was,” 32-year-old Wadhah says.
Najla, then pregnant, decided to make the 8,200-mile journey to the United States to give birth to her third child in safety. Najla is a naturalized U.S. citizen, but her husband and sons were not. Agonizingly, she knew she had to leave them behind.
Najla landed in Washington State and turned to Tacoma Community House to see if anyone could help reunite her family. She connected with Mari Stiffler, an Immigration Specialist with over a decade of experience, to be her advocate.
It took three long years, but through Najla and Mari’s tireless work, Wadhah learned that he and his sons were eligible for immigrant visas (as the spouse and children of a U.S. citizen) and could become Legal Permanent Residents.
Getting to the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti to fill out the necessary paperwork was another challenge in and of itself.
Najla returned to Yemen to make the trip with Wadhah. The couple had two sons and two daughters by this time, all between the ages of 1 and 10. To get to Djibouti, the family had to make a harrowing 12-hour van ride through politically-divided North and South Yemen, then cram into a small, rickety livestock boat for 22 hours. This is where the couple’s youngest, Taleen, took her first steps.
When Wadhah reached the States, he had a hard time adjusting to the culture and was nervous about speaking English with strangers. “I thought we [Yemenis and Americans] were so different,” he says.
Washington’s Department of Social and Human Services referred Wadhah to TCH, where he began taking English Language Acquisition classes and working with an Employment Case Manager. In the time it took to gain practical fluency and land a job with Auto Warehousing Co., his anxiety lessened. He loved his teachers, case workers, and classmates. “I’m very sad,” he says of leaving TCH, “They are my family… all of them.”
Wadhah will always hold Yemen in his heart, but now looks forward to applying for U.S. citizenship — a process which he can begin a year from now. In the U.S. “Everything is green,” he says, grinning. “Everybody smiles everywhere. It’s like when you go to Paradise.”
Once a citizen, he hopes to petition for his parents to join him so they don’t have to miss another precious moment of their grandchildren’s lives. He also wants to start his own business, relaunching the printing press company his family had for generations in Yemen.
“I can do a lot here,” he says. “I know I can do it. Once you catch the opportunity, everything is possible.”