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Durgham Alyasiri: Celebrating Arab American Heritage Month

By April 26, 2024April 29th, 2024No Comments

Durgham Alyasiri creates personalized gifts for attendees of IIB Taste of the Middle East.

In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of notable immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape America’s vibrant tapestry. Today, we spotlight Iraqi-American and former IIB client, Durgham Alyasiri.

Durgham Alyasiri left Iraq as a young child, along with his mother, brother, and sister, after gaining temporary asylum in Jordan. The move forced the family to assimilate to a new culture and dialect. What initially was assumed to be a short stop in Jordan while waiting for asylum turned into eight years of their lives. Mr. Alyasiri says it was not a luxury to adapt but rather a necessity. The experience, he suggests, prepared him for the future.

By the time the family was granted asylum in the U.S., Jordan had evolved from just a stop along the journey to home. Durgham says he initially felt devastated after learning the U.S. allowed his family to move here. Leaving a place that had become home for a new country that he couldn’t picture came with stress. But the family forged on, arriving in Buffalo in the early 2000s.

Alyasiri speaks fondly of IIB’s role in resettling him and his family. “I’m grateful for May (IIB’s May Shogan), who spoke Arabic and made us feel a little bit of home,” Alyasiri said. “Denise (IIB’s Denise Beehag) knew some Arabic words and greeted us with her usual big smile. She also drove us around to show us where the halal supermarkets were located.”

Alyasiri didn’t speak English, so he took advantage of ESL classes offered at IIB for a handful of weeks before the school year started back up at Grover Cleveland (now International Preparatory School). A year later, the family relocated to Amherst, where he attended Amherst Central High School. After graduating, he enrolled at the University at Buffalo, eventually graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Services with a concentration in Community Mental Health. Following candid conversations with university mentors, Alyasiri’s passion for helping others inspired him to obtain a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration and Policy.

He spent some time developing curriculum and teaching at UB before going to Say Yes Buffalo, where he worked as a zone leader, overseeing several schools, including his alma mater, Grover Cleveland High School. He later worked for the United Way, overseeing workforce development. 

Alyasiri decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration through the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, with the goal of running a non-profit. However, his path diverged after he learned about the executive associate program at M&T Bank. Alyasiri has since melded his career with his desire to give back through managing the M&T charitable foundation’s strategic plan.

Through decades of perils and perseverance, Durgham Alyasiri is steadfast in the importance of paying it back. “In every opportunity when I see a youngster who needs support, I don’t even wait to be asked,” Alyasiri said. “I walk towards them to support; there’s a moral obligation to be in those spaces and lend a hand.”

Recently Durgham Alyasiri presented at our Taste of the Middle East event. He also took time to create personalized gifts for attendees. Click here to read more about this special event.

Others we are celebrating in honor of Arab American Heritage Month: