Revan: Emigrating from Iraq

hedo-image001On April 22, the Brattleboro Reformer ran a front-page article highlighting the life of MAT graduate Revan Hedo and his family after they moved to the U.S. from Iraq.

Iraqi refugees thank Vermonters for their help
By BOB AUDETTE, Reformer Staff

Wednesday, April 22
BRATTLEBORO — When the first Iraqi-American was born in Brattleboro last year, his parents were in limbo.

While the child was guaranteed a life in the United States by virtue of his birth, his parents were worried that one day they would have to return to the Middle East — with or without their son — when their visas expired.

Revan Hedo is now in southern California, working as a training specialist for a translation company. His wife, Aseel Pola, is staying home, taking care of 13-month-old Matthew, but hopes to return to work as a microbiologist when the boy is ready for day care.

“He is doing very well and it is really fun to watch him imitating us by putting the phone on his ear and just uttering funny stuff,” said Hedo.

While in Brattleboro, Hedo attended the SIT Graduate Institute, and is working toward a Master of Arts in Teaching [corrected].

After earning his master’s, Hedo and his family moved to Michigan to be with family and friends. He quickly got a job as a school specialist for Lutheran Social Service of Michigan, where he helped Iraqi refugees in and around Detroit register their children in schools and helped those children transition in to their new lives.

“I was also responsible for providing orientations for the parents about the U.S. culture and the school system in the United States,” he said.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, he also taught English as a Second Language to the Iraqi refugees.

“I could feel that while practicing my job I was carrying the spirit of SIT and that of the wonderful community of Brattleboro with me in my classes and when dealing with parents,” said Hedo. “The Brattleboro community enforced and enriched us with the sense of community and helping other people.”

While working as a school specialist, Hedo was applying for other jobs and eventually took the job in southern California.

Hedo and Pola are now White Card Holders, which means they are legally in this country and have work authorizations.

“If everything goes well, we might be able to get our Green Cards in a year, hopefully,” said Hedo. It usually takes about 5 years from the date of receiving a Green Card to apply for citizenship.

Hedo, 31, and Pola, 28, still have family in Iraq, but in 2006 their families left Baghdad for safer environ in Iraq. Both their families are Catholic, which is a minority religion in Iraq.

“The situation is fragile and volatile,” he said. “My sister lost her husband 18 months ago.”

Hedo said his brother-in-law seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth. Particularly distressing for Hedo is the rumor he was picked up randomly by a U.S./Iraqi joint patrol north of Baghdad.

“The only thing my sister needs to know now is if her husband is alive or dead.” His brother-in-law is a carpenter. “Like most Iraqis, he was just trying to make a living.”

The couple’s hope that Iraq will one day be self-sufficient and able to handle its own affairs.

“I hope that I become part of the process of building the future of Iraq by working and teaching there,” said Hedo. “I wish I could teach in Iraq and Aseel wishes she could work at a hospital again.”

Hedo echoed a sentiment spoken by many people who have had to leave their homes.

“You can leave your country, but your country can’t leave you … it’s inside you.”

Hedo first came to the United States in 2004 on a Fulbright scholarship with which he earned a master’s degree in comparative literature and simultaneous translation from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

He returned to Iraq, married Pola and served as an interpreter for U.S. forces, translating for high-ranking officials such as L. Paul Bremer, Army Gen. John Abizaid and England’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

In August 2007, he and his new wife returned to the United States. One reason for their return was that living in Iraq had become too dangerous for him and Pola.

“My life was in jeopardy,” he told the Reformer in 2008. “Everyone knew I had been to the United States and had been working for U.S. military forces.”

Hedo and Pola had a number of people and organizations to thank in the Brattleboro area, but were especially grateful to Frances Bailey, a UMass associate professor who befriended Hedo during his two years in Amherst.

Bailey opened his doors to the couple, giving them a place to live rent free.

“Francis is more than a friend to us now,” said Hedo. “He’s a member of our family. When I call my family in Iraq, they ask about him and wish if they could meet him. Personally, I miss those days where Francis, Aseel, myself and Matthew would be by the fireplace and discuss social, cultural and political issues of the world.”

Hedo also thanked Noah Baker Merrill and Direct Aid Iraq, Natalie Baker Merrill who supported Aseel though her pregnancy and stayed with her on the delivery day, the Brattleboro OB-GYN, the staff of the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Just So Pediatrics and Drs. Valerie Rooney and Jane Katz Field and the congregants at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on Walnut Street.

He also thanked the people in Brattleboro for their aid and understanding.

Hedo had a special thanks for Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his staff, especially Susan Sussman, for presenting his case to Congress and for getting a May 24, 2008, Reformer article on their plight into the Congressional Record.

The plight of Hedo and Pola highlights one of the major shortcomings of United States policy in Iraq, Leahy told the Reformer in 2008.

“Only a tiny fraction of those who need and deserve our help have received U.S. visas. This is unconscionable. These people risked their lives for us, and they have every reason to expect that we will not abandon them.”

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also helped put the spotlight on Hedo and Pola and the plight of other Iraqis in the United States.

“It gives me great pleasure to hear that Revan and Aseel have found success in the U.S. and that their son, Matthew, will have the same opportunities all Americans are afforded,” Welch said on Tuesday. “Though their family has had the good fortune to find refuge in the U.S., we must do more to help the countless other Iraqis whose lives have been put in jeopardy because of the help they gave our soldiers, diplomats and journalists.”

Hedo said people around the world could learn from people in the Brattleboro area.

“I would like to think of the world as one family and I am a member of that family. I hope that the world will eventually recognize that we are one family and we need to tolerate each other and coexist with each other regardless of our differences. I experienced this feeling in the town of Brattleboro and SIT Graduate Institute, thanks to my professors and my fellow students.”

The couple also thanked the Reformer “for all the help we received as a result of publishing the article about us.”

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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