How We Met Laurel: A Blind Syrian Refugee Opens Up About Moving To The U.S. At 17 | TIME

How We Met Laurel: A Blind Syrian Refugee Opens Up About Moving To The U.S. At 17 | TIME

This is stool right here. Can you feel it? Yes. And then sit yourself on the stool. My name
is Laurel Allen Hilbert and I am a Syrian refugee. No ban. No wall. Human rights for all. I decided to come to the United States when I was seventeen. When I told my parents, they thought that I was crazy, which I was. Being blind going to a
completely different culture and not knowing the language. I mean who does that? Many people had great impact on my life. Those people are like angels who are
sent to me from a higher power. What is best in me, I owe to them. My mother and siblings left Syria in
2015, and now they are in Istanbul Turkey. It has been three and a half years now. I haven’t seen my mom. What did you feel when you found out? I received phone call. It was, like, late at night from one of the associates in the nonprofit I volunteer for. claiming there is a boy in the park he doesn’t speak English. I asked him immediately,
“How long have you been in the park?” He said, “I don’t know it’s probably two
weeks.” And I was like, “Oh gosh.” I asked my husband to leave immediately,
and we took off. I asked him, “Where are you?” He doesn’t know. “What park? What’s the name of the park?” “I don’t know” “I know I am in Glendale.” And I said, “Where in Glendale? Are you close to the mall?” He said, “Well I’m across the street from
Americana.” We reach Americana, and I called his name out. That’s when I heard, “Yes,” in Arabic, “I’m here.” And both of us were so devastated, me and my husband, to see he was finding his way with a stick. My husband immediately said, “He’s blind.” Our tears started to… pour And he got in the car I didn’t hesitate for a second to take him home that night. On the third day he said, “You know, I feel
like so touched. Is it okay to call you mom?” “I really miss my mom.” I did some searches
to find what school district has, like, good program for blinds. And within a
week, Laurel was in school. And he was an amazing student. I guess he was going to be okay. You know, god works in the mystery way, and I’m sure if I’m not around, he’s gonna put somebody like me in his way. That is it. That is it. Yes. It’s come a long way. We’ll see where the journey is going to take me. With the same suitcase. I decided to move to New York. Not because I know a lot about New York, but I knew that opportunities might come. I decided my education is a priority. I decided to go to the Department of
Education first, before finding a shelter. Before anything else. Apparently I was walking along Broadway, so I stopped someone. And that was Steven. I was walking to Union Square, and I saw this young, blind man kind of like he wasn’t sure which direction to head. And I did this thing, where, you know, I walked past him, and then I thought about it for 30 seconds, and then I turned around and
asked him if he needed help. I told him, “Hey I’m looking for the
Department of Education could you kindly let me know what street it’s on?” I knew he was running behind already so I just offered to walk him there to try to get
him there as quickly as possible. And as we walked to where he needed to go, we kind of just were talking, and he was telling me about his life a little bit. A lot of stuff came as a surprise to me. He didn’t seem like someone who was homeless. I’ve had points in my life that were really rough, but I feel like I always had a little bit of support. And to be blind and also not have any support, I just couldn’t imagine how tough that would be. Steven, he became kind of like a best
friend. Like, we talk about everything. He tells me about his trips. He tells me
about his work. He’s a very noticeable individual. Like last winter, I didn’t have a jacket. They’re quite expensive, and I didn’t have a job. And he texted me once. He was like, “Hey look, myself and Christine want to get you a gift.” Laurel as someone who’s never asked me for anything, and I think that’s one of
the things about Laurel that really helps him connect with people. You know? He gives people an opportunity to see what his life is like, and he’s open to
people’s help. Hey there, Grace, how’s it going? Good. Quick question for you. I have a student on the other line who wants to join the Professional English Program. Laurel is very, very serious about what he does. He comes to work every day in a
suit, even though I told him he doesn’t have to wear a suit. I’m Dawn Henning. I’m
the vice president of new business development and sales for Rennert
International, and I’m also Laurel’s boss. The short version is I met Laurel on the
D train. I was in a shelter in Brooklyn, and every single day I wake up with a
hope in my heart. But that day that, that specific day, I woke up very depressed, just wanting to put on anything and go to the main office of the shelter to
find someone to help me to submit more work applications. Laurel was already on
the train. He was standing by the door, and he had on a shirt that said the
Brooklyn half marathon. And I thought, “Oh wow, I ran the Brooklyn half marathon. It was a really big deal for me.” And she’s like, “Hey, did you run in the Brooklyn marathon?” I shook my head. I’m like, this lady must be crazy. She must not have seen my cane. And he said that, “I don’t know what you’re
talking about.” I didn’t want to appear stupid and the blind person who doesn’t know what he’s wearing. I’m like, ‘Oh yeah! It’s actually one of my favorite shirt.” I really didn’t know what I was wearing at that time. And then we just started
chatting. He mentioned that he was interested in being an interpreter, and I
said, “Wow, I work for a company that does interpreting.” And, “Would you want to come
by and stop by sometime?” And she said, “Okay, Laurel, well here is my business card. Just send me your resume.” I got off the train. I came up into my office. I turned on my computer, got my coffee and everything, and Laurel had already sent
me his resume. It’s been really really nice. Because that day I wasn’t having such a good day, he wasn’t having such a good day, and it turned out to be such a nice friendship. My mother and siblings received approval to come to the U.S. at the end of 2016. But after the travel ban, they were not able to come. We are covering some breaking news on U.S. president Donald Trump’s travel ban. The federal judge granting a Washington Attorney General’s request to
immediately halt President Trump’s executive order on immigration, nation
wide. Hi, it’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for having us. Yeah, of course. Thanks for coming, Lily. You can have a seat right there. It was just that kind of feeling that now I can relax. The people who come to the states are
people who are looking for a better future. Myself, I decided to become American
citizen because in my country I felt no justice. I feel like all of these countries that
are currently debating whether or not to help these people have been helped by
others. You know what if all the windows in all the buildings in this whole of Manhattan didn’t have glass anymore because of bombing and stuff? It’s like if I think of my home, and I think of, you know, having to leave it with nothing. Oh my god. That… it’s just unimaginable. I think every one of us has a personal
responsibility to lend a helping hand to those who are in need. There is a greater power that put Dawn, Steven, Samar along the way. And I think that what
happened to me is something that will prepare me to be there for other people.

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About the Author: Sam Caldwell


  1. We see through your propaganda.

    If you have the balls and are not complete trash then do once a piece about all the rapes committed by refugees.

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