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
“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.”