Asma and her family, originally from the Sudan, were living in Saudi Arabia where her husband Ali worked in business and computer technology and Asma was an after-school tutor in subjects ranging from mathematics to world history. They were happy there, but believed that life for them and their highly intelligent daughter would be much better if they moved to the U.S.
In early 2009 they got the exciting news that they had won a visa to the U.S. They packed up their life in Saudi Arabia and came here, ready to live the American dream. Unfortunately, the excitement and hope for better days didn’t last long.
The family had arranged to move in with a friend of her husband, who lived in the D.C. area, until they could find a place of their own. Three months later, he told them he could no longer afford to house and feed them without financial assistance.
Now in possession of a green card and social security number, Ali set out to try and find a job. He managed to secure a position at the airport for $7 per hour. It was something, but it wasn’t enough. Trying to pay Ali’s friend left them with almost nothing for food.
“I couldn’t believe I was in America and I was hungry. I had never been hungry before. It was so hard asking for food. I had never asked for food from anyone before,” Asma recalled, with tears streaming down her face. She was utterly bewildered at the bad turn of events in her life and she couldn’t see a way out.
Even though Ali was able to secure a better-paying job at the airport for $11 per hour, it didn’t cover their basic expenses. A Cornerstones Community Case Manager contacted Asma and arranged for them to move into the Embry Rucker Community Shelter. While at the shelter, Asma’s case manager worked diligently to help her secure food stamps and obtain free-lunch vouchers for her daughter at school. Asma eventually found a job working at a daycare center and tried to give back in kind to the shelter by tutoring a staff person studying mathematics for her nursing exam.
Asma’s Cornerstones Case Manager continued to work to help them establish greater stability, and a few months later they got the news that they had been awarded a Section 8 housing voucher which would enable them to rent a home at 30 percent of their income.
Once they were settled in their town home, Asma took an English class at the Cornerstones Community Resource Center in Herndon. She also took a six-month computer course with Computer Core, one of Cornerstones’ partners. Wanting to pursue her dream of becoming a nurse, Asma looked into taking a more advanced English class at NoVA, but in order to qualify for financial assistance she needed to move her level of proficiency from 212 to 300 which she is working on right now. “If I can just speak better English,” Asma shared, “I can do everything myself.”
While things were looking up for the family, the stress of their lives had taken a heavy toll on Asma’s and Ali’s health. Asma developed a mild form of diabetes and high blood pressure and her husband almost died from a stroke. Indeed, he most probably would have died if a Cornerstones’ volunteer, on learning that he had become suddenly ill, had not insisted that she take them to the hospital immediately. When the emergency was over, they confronted another obstacle: trying to find aftercare when you have no health insurance. Again, another Cornerstones staff person contacted health providers in Northern Virginia until she found a clinic that would take Ali as a patient. Reflecting on this health crisis, Asma gives great credit to Cornerstones and, more importantly, the level of care and support from the staff: “They were so good to us. I would be crazy without their help. What would I do without them?”
Although she is not currently working, Asma remains gainfully occupied in her mission to attain self-sufficiency for herself and her family. Most recently she enrolled in the Cornerstones Citizenship Class that is run by a volunteer who has many years’ experience working in the public sector. Asma attributes much of her increased confidence, understanding of American culture, organizational skills, and greater English proficiency to her participation in this class. Moreover, Asma, with the full support of her teacher, has begun to give back in the form of assisting in teaching the class, which provides her the opportunity to practice public speaking, develop time management skills, and improve her cross-cultural awareness as she works with clients who come from many different countries.
Despite their increased stability, Asma and her family are not quite ready to let go of Cornerstones’ caring and supportive hand and Asma is very appreciative of the steadfast and continued commitment to help her and her family reach self-sufficiency.
As for living the American dream that they once coveted from afar — Asma believes that they finally are, with the help of “our family at Cornerstones”. And they see it most in the success of their own daughter, who with hard work and a hopeful, undeterred spirit, continues to achieve many academic awards which now cover her bedroom walls.