The only thing Ali AlSaedi ever wanted for his home country was peace. That’s why, when offered a job as a translator for the U.S. Army, he responded with a resounding “yes”.
The year was 2003 and hopes were high that coalition forces could help rebuild a better Iraq, out from under the rule of Sadaam Hussein.
“I had a dream that I wanted to see something peaceful,” Ali shares, a mixture of pride and sadness in his voice. “That is why I joined.”
Ali traded his quiet life in the governorate of Maysan for life in the tumultuous city of Baghdad where he would live on the Army base.
“At the beginning, everything was cool and safe,” he describes. But things wouldn’t stay that way.
Not every Iraqi was in favor of the coalition. An insurgency rose up; violence broke out. Attacks, snipers, and IEDs became the norm. Simply walking from one office to the next had become life-risking—let alone leaving base. He became separated from friends and family back home. His dream had cost him everything.
In 2006, violence reached an all-time high.
“You’re a target,” Ali explains, who bravely carried on despite the risks. “To this day, I’m very proud of what we did. I [was] not only trying to help my people—I [was] keeping my friends safe.”
It wasn’t until 2009, as troops began to withdraw from Iraq, that Ali was offered an SIV (special immigrant visa) to move to the United States. Blacklisted by his own country, for his service to coalition forces, Ali felt he had no option but to make the move. He explains, “I wanted to come, but at the same time I didn’t have a choice.”
Ali arrived in De Moines, Iowa ready to begin his new life. Unfortunately for him, the country was at the peak of a recession, following the housing bubble crash two years prior.
He remembers this hard time:
“When I could not find a job for several months, I felt like words from Martin Luther King were true—that I had been given a check from America, but the check had bounced.”
Ali made ends meet taking irregular contract jobs, but ultimately decided to go back and continue his education to become an engineer. About that time a former security detachment urged him to move to Atlanta where Ali could escape Iowa’s uncomfortably low temps and give him the city-life he craved.
He made Clarkston (a popular refugee hub in East Atlanta) his new home and started back to school. It wasn’t long before he earned an internship at a popular software company as a technical support engineer. Upon learning he could take any and all training and exams for free as part of the internship, Ali spent nights and weekends soaking up all the information (and caffeine) that he could.
In just three months he became one of only 14 individuals in the state of Georgia to earn his expert certificate—an impressive feat that usually takes three years.
His brilliance and ambition soon gained him a job on the research team of a local fiber optic company, but his heart was calling him home. Home to Iraq. Home to his family, who he hadn’t seen in years.
In October of last year Ali flew home to his father, his dozen brothers and sisters, and their children—his nieces and nephews, who he speaks of fondly. The trip was a breath of fresh air for Ali , who had spent years in devoted service, then launching a career.
But the challenges were not over. Ali returned back to the U.S. to find out his former position had been filled and he would need to find a new job. He took to the internet and began applying at many agencies. It wasn’t long before he got a call from Yonten Basnet, a coordinator at Amplio Recruiting, a local Atlanta staffing agency.
“It was phenomenal,” Ali recalls. “I got a call. The next day I got an appointment. The third day I got an interview—and on the same day I got a job!”
That job was CAD Programmer at an Atlanta construction company, where Amplio has recently placed 7 qualified techs, including Ali, who is grateful to be working again.
“I just wanted to get back to work. I hadn’t worked since October. But to have a job 25 minutes from my home—paying bills, having benefits, keeping food on the table and a roof on my head—I’m very happy with it.”
He says his favorite part of working for the construction company is the diversity—its desks filled with individuals of all ages, nationalities and walks of life. It is a place where he is judged not by his name or skin color, but by his intellect and experience. This hasn’t always been the case.
Ali speaks openly about these encounters:
“I have to say [skin color] is a factor in employment and status in life. I love America so much—it is the beacon of freedom. To come here and see this is really tough. People shake my hand and ask me where I’m from and they pull away and it makes me feel very bad. Many of these have never even served their country.”
Still, Ali is grateful. Grateful for this country; grateful for his new job; and grateful for all the opportunities that lie ahead.
Last year Ali experienced a dream come true when he became a U.S. citizen, which he says was “like being born again.” As for his dreams for the future, he shares that establishing a family makes top of the list, followed by finishing his Master’s degree, and traveling the world.
Ali put his life on the line for the dream of peace in Iraq. And while that dream still hasn’t come to pass, every day he is doing his part to bring kindness and peace to his little part of the world.
At Amplio, we’re staffing great companies with talented and dependable individuals. If you’d like to learn more about hiring refugees at your place of business, visit our website at www.ampliorecruiting.com