Proud to Be an American Citizenship Offers New Lease on Life for Former Refugee

Article excerpt

Byline: Harry Hitzeman Daily Herald Staff Writer

Said Muhidin sits in his modest two-bedroom Carol Stream apartment, relishing his new status and wondering how to frame the certificate that proves it.

The 55-year-old Somalia native is officially a U.S. citizen.

Muhidin is overcoming his heart, lung and back problems. He is with his wife, Khadiga Mohamed, and their two foster children.

"I am not a refugee anymore," Muhidin said proudly while returning from an official swearing-in ceremony Sept. 17 in Chicago. "I am an American citizen."

But life wasn't always as upbeat for Muhidin and his family.

And it would have been a tougher journey without the help of a collection of volunteers and members of the Glen Ellyn Evangelical Covenant Church, who "adopted" the Muslim man more than five years ago.

"(Religion) wasn't a consideration at our church because they were people in need," said Paul Nelson, church member and Glen Ellyn resident. "They are all God's people, just as we are."

A decade ago, Muhidin was on a boat in the Indian Ocean, leaving his fractured homeland of Somalia for a refugee camp in Kenya.

Muhidin's brother-in-law had been executed by the military. He was fleeing the country with his newly widowed sister, Asha, and her five children.

The boat had no motor, so Muhidin and other passengers had to row through ocean currents for two weeks.

"It was very difficult," recalled Muhidin in his limited yet sufficient English.

At the camp, they lived in a tent until July 11, 1996.

That's when Muhidin and his sister's family arrived in New York, courtesy of World Relief, a not-for-profit organization that provides humanitarian aid, disaster and emergency relief.

Muhidin's wife would eventually join him in the United States - in DuPage County specifically - two years later.

Finally, he was away from the violence and terror that ripped apart his homeland.

He was happy. Free.

But not out of danger.

Doctors diagnosed several health problems for Muhidin. He had Hepatitis C. He was placed on the heart transplant list for the Loyola Medical Center.

"It was probably a good thing that they were required to go to the refugee clinic and have the physicals," said Karen Brenner, a DuPage County Health Department nurse.

Hospital stays became routine as Muhidin battled frequent pneumonia. He had a problem with discs in his back, making it difficult to walk.

With the help of modern medicine, faith and willpower, Muhidin recovered. He no longer needs a heart transplant and has been "cured" of Hepatitis.

People like Paul Nelson and his wife, Esther, were there to help Muhidin through many steps. …