Living in war-torn Aleppo, Syria is a different world than tranquil Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. For Salah Khilo, his wife Khalideh and their five children, aged 11 to 20, the sound of gunfire and walls shaking from bomb blasts was an everyday occurrence. Salah knew he had to move his family from the strife of the ongoing civil war, so in 2012 Salah risked his life by bribing a Turkish soldier, the only option to get out of Syria, and crossed into Turkey.
Once in Turkey, Salah found employment and after three months, he sent for his son, Ahmad, to join him in Turkey. Ahmad faced being drafted into the Syrian Army, so the decision to make the dangerous journey to sneak across the border, following in his father’s footsteps, was an easy one. Ahmad spent two nights at the Turkish border before finding a soldier to bribe to leave Syria. Eventually, Khalideh and the other four children also fled their homeland and made the dangerous trek into Turkey.
As illegal immigrants in Turkey, they lived in fear for three years until they were connected to Church World Service, who assisted in their emigration to the U.S. in November 2015. The family’s first language was Kurdish, and they also knew Arabic and Turkish, but English was unknown to them. Being in a new country with no family or friends and trying to learn a new language was challenging and scary, but they were extremely grateful to be safe and have new opportunities. Ahmad graduated from Lancaster Mennonite High School this year, after missing three years of schooling in Syria. Three of his siblings also attend Lancaster Mennonite and the youngest attends Price Elementary.
Salah and Khalideh eventually both found work, but found it difficult to save as their entire earnings went to pay bills. “Our bank account is always at zero at the end of the week,” says Salah. For the first time this year, the family used United Way of Lancaster County VITA’s free tax preparation services, saved the cost of high tax preparation fees and received the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Now, the family has some financial slack and they can save for two very important expenses: Ahmad’s college expenses, he plans to attend a local community college, and the purchase of a home.
The family is very appreciative of how welcoming and helpful the people of Lancaster County have been, and the chance for a better life that they have been granted. While they have acclimated themselves into a new culture, the one difference they notice every day is the quiet. Their new home offers peace and tranquility they never could have imagined before coming to Lancaster.