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Empowering The Next Generation of Refugee Professionals: Zahraa’s Story

By November 16, 2021No Comments

For the first time in the last five years, hope is returning to refugee resettlement. Discriminatory policies and bans have been lifted, the refugee cap has expanded ten-fold, and families are arriving every week, including Afghan evacuees. Our New American Integration department is rapidly expanding to meet these positive trends. With the help of your generous gift, our organization can be equipped to rise to this new era of resettlement, one rooted in welcoming and development. 


Learn more about Zahraa and her impact at IIB below! 


Zahraa, Integration Case Manager at The International Institute of Buffalo

SUNY Brockport Graduate, Bachelors in International Relations and Women & Gender Studies with Minor in Political Science


What is your country of origin? 

“I was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 2000, but I had to leave in 2007 due to a medical injury. To seek better medical attention, my mom took me to Iran, Syria, Russia, and eventually Turkey where we sought asylum at a UN base.  After two years of moving around, it was recommended we resettle to the United States. We arrived in Buffalo in 2009 through Jewish Family Services, which specialized in trauma.”


What inspired you to become a caseworker? 

“As a refugee, I remember learning a new environment. I wanted to help others to learn a new environment and I also wanted to learn how the resettlement process works. I like thinking that my work brings things full circle.”


How has being a refugee yourself benefited you or your clients? 

“I have insight and an understanding of the culture shock they are going through. I also know that no one refugee experience is exactly the same as another. For example, my experience is not the same as my friends who live in Buffalo. I am empathetic but I am careful to remember that I can empathize with a client but cannot assume I know everything about their exact situation.”


What is your favorite part of your role? 

“My favorite part of my job is when I can tell that a client is struggling with something and then they have a lightbulb moment where what was initially daunting is no longer daunting to them. I enjoy seeing them adapt and advocate for themselves.”



What advice do you have for refugees starting or restarting their professional careers in Buffalo? 

“It can be intimidating trying to work here, but you have the strength. There is strength in you who crossed oceans to come to the U.S. and you have resiliency. We as human beings are all resilient, but refugees especially have overcome so much.”


How can the community help the next generation of refugee professionals?

Empathy. It is important to try to understand that all refugees’ experiences are different. The community can be adapting, be flexible, guide, and support refugees.  


Your Gift Will Empower The Next Generation of Refugee Professionals Like Zahraa


Your gift to our Annual Fund will empower the next generation of refugee professionals who are making our city a better place by: 

  • Helping us to advocate for the essential needs of our clients that make education and career exploration possible 
  • Funding our services that help refugees find work such as our six-week Job Readiness Course and our English Learning Courses 
  • Expanding our Employment department to prepare for the influx of arrivals and increased employment needs  
  • Supporting our interpreting and translation departments that meet the language access needs for non-native English speakers, allowing them to fully participate in our programs
  • Empowering the next generation of refugee professionals who are making positive changes within our city, revitalizing our economy, and guiding the New Americans starting their lives in Buffalo