In 2009, Weam Hasan and his family came to the United States as refugees from Iraq. Weam had two children, a son and a daughter who was just 5 months old. Over the next several years, Weam’s daughter found stable, quality care with one of All Our Kin’s Early Head Start (EHS) providers. This family’s experience shows the potential for family child care providers to serve as much-needed sources of continuity and support for new families in our communities.
When Weam and his family relocated to the United States, they faced the enormous task of reconstructing their lives in a foreign country. It was especially important that Weam and his wife find care for their young daughter, Marwa, so that they could begin working and studying. Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) connected these parents to All Our Kin, and specifically to the EHS program that we run in collaboration with the United Way of Greater New Haven. Through EHS, Marwa began receiving free, nurturing care from All Our Kin provider Nicole Richardson and her son Akile.
Nicole and Akile soon recognized that Weam and his family were undergoing a difficult transition. “They had to try to adjust with no family here,” says Akile. Nicole agrees, adding that Weam is an “excellent man.” “He’s just living for his kids to make them happy,” she says.
Nicole remembers that Marwa was a friendly, warm child. She blossomed as she developed friendships with other children in Nicole’s program. “It took my baby a few weeks to get used to going there on her own,” Weam recalls. “Then we found that she was more active, more social. She was playing with the other kids. She has a lot of friends there. She loved to stay at the daycare.”
Marwa’s new community had such a positive impact on her that Weam sought special permission to keep his daughter in Nicole’s program when the family moved from New Haven to Hamden. Normally, they would have had to transition Marwa to another program or keep her at home. But Weam says that wouldn’t have been good for Marwa. “She hates to stay home,” he says. “She’s very active.” With help from All Our Kin’s Executive Director, Jessica Sager, Weam’s family placed a request to keep Marwa with Nicole. “Marwa got eight months more with Nicole,” Weam remembers, “which was great! We used that time.”
Marwa developed such strong ties to Nicole and the children at her program that she continued to visit even after she aged out of the EHS program (which only serves children ages 0-3). “After she [reached] three years old she couldn’t go anymore, and we couldn’t really afford to pay,” says Weam. “She stayed home for a year. Nicole asked her to come in one day a week, just to play for free and to see her.” To this day, Weam says, Nicole sometimes asks Marwa to come in and visit. His family even held a recent birthday party for Marwa at Nicole’s home.
Weam emphasizes that Nicole’s program was essential both for his daughter, who found a loving, educational, and supportive environment, and for himself and his wife. “It made our lives much easier,” says Weam. “I could go to work, my wife could go to school.” His wife began studying English at Hamden Adult Education and volunteering at St. Raphael Hospital. Weam became employed as a maintenance engineer at a hotel in downtown New Haven. Enrolling Marwa in Nicole’s program enabled Weam and his wife to embark on their next steps in their new community.
Weam is also keen to point out that Marwa’s placement in Nicole’s program helped expose his daughter to New Haven’s diversity. “One critical point that not everyone talks about is how programs help children to be open-minded,” Weam states. “With Marwa, she’s very accustomed to Hispanics, African Americans, everybody,” he says. “Marwa’s best friend [from Nicole’s program] is Nehtma, pronounced as Naila, who is African American. My daughter used to call her Nai-nai. They sleep together, they talk together, they’re best friends. That’s one of the things that I love. Because my kids, they don’t see a difference between any people.” Weam credits Nicole’s culturally and racially diverse program with giving Marwa appreciation and tolerance for individuals of all backgrounds.
We’re very glad that All Our Kin’s providers are playing a part in welcoming individuals like Weam and Marwa to their new home here in Connecticut. Though Weam says his family is still far from feeling totally at home in the U.S., he and his children have gone a long way toward settling in.
“It’s not easy to transport between countries,” Weam says. But he sees his children beginning the process. “My kids are building their friendships, their memories of this place. [We] moved to [our] first home in August. We have our own backyard, and my neighbor gave us a swing set for our kids. When it’s warm or in the summer they’re always in the backyard. This is their life, their home, their memories…I feel a debt for this country. It gave me a safe environment and a safe education for my children.”
To learn how Nicole’s program supported another New Haven family, please view our previous post about Lillian and her children.