Producer’s Notebook: From Syria to America, one refugee’s story


Mohamad Sayadi, Syrian refugee

A young man in his mid-20s, making sacrifices and doing whatever is necessary to create a future for himself and his family. He sits on his couch, slowly sipping tea. His top concerns: safety, working and learning English. This is the story of a Syrian refugee named Mohamad Sayadi.

He lives just outside the U.S. city of Atlanta. He’s one of fewer than 100 Syrian refugees to be settled in the state of Georgia. He lives in an apartment with two other men—both of them refugees from Iraq.

Mohamad Sayadi, Syrian refugee

It looks just like any other apartment for a group of three 20-somethings. Perhaps it’s a bit less furnished than you’d expect. And there’s no television in the living room—rare for an American home. Half used bottles of ketchup, steak sauce, olive oil and sriracha sit on the dining room table. A bag of tea from Syria is on the kitchen counter.

Mohamad Sayadi, Syrian refugee

This apartment is just the latest stop on an incredible journey.

When his family came under threat in Homs, Mohamad fled. (The threat was so serious, he’s still too scared to talk about it on-the-record.) He paid a man to guide him across the border into Jordan. He got to Amman, found work and eventually made enough for his family to join him. The family began working with the United Nations and the United States to leave Jordan. Round after round of security screenings and questions would follow. Until finally, earlier this year, he was cleared to come into the United States.

Mohamad Sayadi, Syrian refugee

He’s here now. His family – mom, dad and three sisters – are still in Amman. They’re not living in a refugee camp. They seem too proud for that. Instead, they’re getting by in an apartment. Waiting for the day that they, too, are cleared to come into the United States. Meanwhile, Mohamad is working hard – saving money and learning English. He now works as a waiter in a restaurant. It’s a far cry from the job he had just a few days ago: cleaning a store—a job he describes with a laugh as “dirty.”

Being able to help tell this kind of story is why I am a producer. This past weekend, I stood off to the side of a makeshift classroom as a man named David from the charity World Relief began orientation for three new refugee arrivals. They had been in the country less than 24 hours after a harrowing journey from the Central African Republic. He tells them they’ll get support from the charity for three months. After that, with limited government assistance, they’ll be on their own.

World Relief class
Through a translator, David tells them: “From the day you arrive, we are responsible for making sure you can get started. Housing, food, furniture. The way that we are able to do that is the government gives World Relief some money. From that money, we have to spend at least $925 per person in your family. And that’s pretty much all the money that World Relief has to get started with your needs. So that’s a one-time amount. If it all gets used up in the first month, it’s finished.”

The family studiously take notes. They seem overwhelmed, yet don’t display much emotion. Perhaps they’re just tired from the journey. I stand there with tears in my eyes as I think about what these people fled. What lies ahead. And the resources that will help them get there.

I think about my own daughter – who would turn 15 months old the next day – back home, blissfully unaware that the world can be such a dark place.

These people are the light. The people who fight – going wherever they can to survive and, hopefully, thrive. Refugees are sometimes portrayed as weak. As victims. We saw the opposite. We saw people who are incredibly dedicated, law-abiding, passionate and desperate to find success.

I’m proud to help tell their stories this week. I invite you to watch, read, interact and take a moment to reflect. And think forward to the day when a family like Mohamad’s is together again. Not because they’re finally reunited, but because they never had to flee in the first place.

Journey of a refugee from Syria to the U.S