2018 Spring Speaker Series at Summit Artspace
On Monday, April 16th, we drove to the "Summit Artspace" on Market Street in Akron to attend an event that was part of the third annual "2018 Spring Speaker Series" hosted by "Asian Services in Action" (ASIA) in order to, as its website indicates, "highlight Ohio's refugee community along with a featured keynote presentation which showcases the refugee experience."
Ms. Ajila Karalic served as the event coordinator and we got to say hello to Mr. Michael Byun, the CEO of ASIA, who would be leaving later that day for Europe where he was scheduled to attend a important conference in Kiev.
We arrived early and pulled into the parking lot at the same time as Mr. Alan Goldman, a retiree who loves to attend events such as this one so we had a good visit while we waited for other attendees to arrive. Amongst the latter was our friend, Mr. Zahid Siddiqi who we see at international events quite frequently.
The keynote speaker of the day was Mr. Hamayon Yaqobi who immigrated to the United States from Afghanistan inNovember, 2016 with his wife and 2 children (another has since been born here) and is now a Patient Service Representative/Refugee Health Screening Coordinator at the Akron location of "Asia ICHC International Community Health Center" which also has an office in Cleveland. (see https://www.asiaohio.org/ichc/)
As Mr. Yaqobi's biography in the program booklet read in part, he was "born and raised in a family of eight in Eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province where he graduated from high school in 2001. He then pursued a pharmaceutical degree from Kabul Medical University where he graduated with his Associates in 2003. Hamayon received a scholarship to travel to the U.S. in 2007 to receive English language training from the U.S. Defense Language Institute at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Upon his return to Afghanistan in 2008, Hamayon enlisted with the United States Army as a Linguist and Cultural Advisor in Kandahar, one of the most dangerous militant regions where he served for six years."
During his presentation, Mr. Yaqobi explained to us that he enlisted in our army not only because he wanted to help his country but also because he had made so many friends and was treated so well during his time in Texas that he believed it was time to give back. He described his service as a translator/linguist for the U.S. Army as quite harrowing; one of the more rewarding moments was when his division drove the Taliban out of an area that housed a school thus enabling the young students to pursue their education which is the key to their future and that of Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, like many Afghanees who aligned themselves with the United States, Mr. Yaqobi found himself on a hit list put together by the insurgents. In order to protect himself and his family, he applied for an "Special Immigrant Visa" aka "SIV Visa" which is "available to persons who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces or under Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan." (see https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/siv-iraqi-afghan-translators-interpreters.html)
According to what Mr. Yaqobi told us, the SIV Visa was designed to be issued only nine months after application but in his case it took three years and might have taken even longer but, thankfully, during his time in the U.S. Army Mr. Yaqobi became friends with Major Mike Kelvington from Akron who was determined to help him; at one point he even got a number of U.S. Congresspersons to sign on to a letter in support of Mr. Yaqobi.
At last, the visa was granted and Mr. Yaqobi and his family were allowed to come to the United States. Since his good friend Major Kelvington lived in Akron, Mr. Yaqobi decided to settle here because he would have a support network available to him and his family. Of course things were a little shakey for his young children when they first arrived here without much knowledge of English but this was overcome; in fact, Mr. Yaqobi spoke with pride about how his son earned the honor of being "Student of the Month" at his school on two different occasions.
What's more, Mr. Yaqobi loves his job at the community health center and plans to eventually return to college so he can be licensed to be a pharmacist in the United States. He recalled affectionately about his youngest child was born in Akron and he got to witness the birth which was something he didn't get to do with the two eldest due to his tenure with the U.S. Army.
When asked about what he thought about the weather in Ohio, however, Mr. Yaqobi hesitated for a second before he said, "not too good" and got a good-natured laugh from all of us who were inclined to agree with him.
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC