Success Stories

Personal Stories of Recovery

In new, distant land, Ghadah Hussein has found a home thanks to art

*Note: this story first appeared in the April 2016 Stairways enewsletter

Tears welled up in Ghadah Hussein’s eyes as she nervously clutched her phone inside the terminal at Baghdad International Airport.

The flight she was about to board would take her away from her war-torn home in the Middle East to a new life in the Western world. Though conceived in the interest of providing greater safety and opportunity, Ghadah’s plan to move to America was accompanied by equal parts uncertainty and anxiety.

“I told my mom I was scared and I didn’t know what was going to be my future,” she said.

Ghadah immigrated to Erie in 2009 with her daughter, Haneen, after constant violence ravaged her community and impacted her in a personal way.

Ghadah’s husband was kidnapped and she never saw nor heard from him again.

“I saw many (dangerous) things in my country,” she said. “I told IOM (International Office of Migration) I want to go anywhere, and they sent me to America.”

Ghadah and Haneen would have to face the unique challenges of moving to a distant place and acclimating to a different culture on their own. Learning the language and adjusting to the weather were obstacles, but the experience of being isolated in a new and unfamiliar place proved to be the most problematic.

Ghadah felt depressed, lonely and was grappling with the pains of her past — the ones she had tried to distance herself from. Eventually, she started talking about her depression with a therapist at Stairways’ Erie Outpatient Clinic and began working with a blended case manager. As she adjusted to her new way of life, Ghadah learned ways to manage her depression and look ahead to the bright future she was creating for her daughter.

In addition to the skills she has learned and uses, Ghadah has always had her art. To Ghadah, art has always been a way to express her feelings, both current and past.

One of her favorite works, an acrylic appropriately named “Sadness of Baghdad” (above, right) depicts a heartbroken Ghadah looking on her hometown.

“This is me and my city,” she says.

Most of Ghadah’s family has also fled home to escape the constant unrest. Her mother, brother and sister left to live in Turkey, while another sister moved to Paris. Her dad remains in Iraq to provide for the rest of the family.

The works she has painted tell the story of the life she used to have and the new one she is creating for her and Haneen.

In fact, art now occupies a more prominent role than ever in Ghadah’s life.

This year, she began attending school to pursue a degree in graphic design and has found herself immersed; consuming every bit of information she can get her hands on. To help pay for some of the costs associated with her education, including the purchase of a camera, Ghadah has made use of Stairways Behavioral Health's Client Assistance Fund, which helps clients meet their basic needs.

Ghadah knew attending school in America would be a new and challenging experience — she estimates she spends more than double the amount of time other students need for classwork due to her limited understanding of English.

But the work she puts in only made the 96-percent grade she received in her first term more worthwhile.

It’s a message Ghadah has been intent on instilling in Haneen, now 14, since arriving seven years ago: “Here, you have a chance to make something for yourself,” she said.

Ghadah envisions someday owning her own art gallery, while Haneen aspires to be a pediatrician.

Like the countless others that have come to America seeking a better life, Ghadah’s story is one of opportunity.

“I love America,” Ghadah said. “Everyone is so nice. Here you are safe and have freedoms.

“America has given me and my daughter a chance.”

 Ghadah's art conveys her emotions of her journey relocating to Erie from Iraq.


"Stairways helped me to work on recovery, one step at a time." -Ron S

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