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SCC Student Flourishes After Fleeing Iraq

Saleh Saffuk is a student in SCC's Auto Collision Repair Program. He is re-building his life after fleeing Iraq and ISIS.

After emigrating from war-torn Iraq, Saleh Saffuk is starting his life over, one day at a time.

“My only hope is to live in peace,” Saffuk said.

Saffuk is a student in Southeast Community College’s Auto Collision Repair program. He has prior experience with cars and hopes he can someday live the American dream and become his own boss.

“In my country we worked in a shop,” he said. “I decided I like to work for myself and I figured out it would be one of the easiest things to start with.”

Last year, Saffuk was the recipient of the Joseph H. & Martha A. Armstrong Memorial Scholarship. In a letter to the donors, he thanked them for the head start with his college experience in America.

“Your support is giving a hope for better future in our new country, the United States. We are so proud to become citizens of the U.S. within two years from now,” he wrote.

Saffuk moved to Lincoln three years ago with his wife, Hakima. Violence in his country had gotten to the point where he didn’t know if he and his family would live or die.

“We didn’t have a voice over there,” he said. “It should be democratic but it is not. Minorities like us can’t do anything, can’t make decisions.”

Saffuk is part of the Yazidi religion, which is persecuted by the ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). This is one of the reasons he came to the United States to seek solace. Other family members settled in Turkey, Germany and the U.S.

“My religion is very important. I am proud of it because they didn’t teach me to kill. My people taught me to respect others and be peaceful.”

The Yezidis are Kurdish-speaking and the distinctive religion is neither Christian nor Muslim. Because of this they have historically been persecuted by their Muslim neighbors, and more recently targeted by ISIS.

A year after Saffuk left Iraq, his hometown of Sinjar and the surrounding region was attacked by ISIS. He said thousands of men were killed, and women taken as slaves. It will be hard for him to ever go back.

“I miss everything….” Saffuk said tearfully. “Most of the Yazidi people are farmers. Our life was so simple. Then one night it changed. I wish I could go back but nobody’s there.”

Craig Shaw was one of his instructors in the Auto Collision Repair program at SCC. He said he’s one of the best students he’s ever had.

“He’s very talented and works harder than anyone I ever had,” Shaw said. “He’s so polite and nice and just wants to learn. I wish I had about ten guys like that in my class.”

Shaw said he will be a welcome addition to any auto body shop once he graduates from SCC.

“If I had a shop, I’d hire him yesterday,” Shaw added.

His experience in America has been easier than he thought it would be. With help from social services and other agencies, he and his wife have been able to start their lives over. His wife is enrolled in SCC’s Practical Nursing program. Their son, Siwar, will soon celebrate his 2nd birthday.

One of the reasons they came to Lincoln is because of the Yazidi community. There are more than 1,000 living in the capital city and the number continues to grow. Saffuk remains connected to his family spread throughout the world by the internet and facebook, but for the time being he’s only looking ahead.

“I believe this is the most beautiful country, they give freedom to everyone,” he said. “My family keeps me going and working hard for our future.”


For more information contact:
Andrea Gallagher Haggar
Marketing Specialist