A small classroom down a hall at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Lincoln is a long way from Iraq, but this is where a group of Yazidi women find themselves. They’re part of a class led by volunteer Terri Hensley, a former teacher who’s helping them learn English.
“We are learning consonants and vowels and we are starting right from scratch, so it is a very slow process,” Hensley said.
These woman are mostly from an area in northern Iraq, but Yazidis have also lived in parts of Syria and Turkey. They’re both an ethnic and religious minority and have faced persecution for decades, most recently at the hands of ISIS. They began arriving in Nebraska several decades ago as part of the refugee resettlement process.
Gulie Khalaf is Yazidi and arrived in the U.S. from Syria in 1998. She moved from Atlanta to Buffalo and then to Lincoln, a place where it seems many Yazidi refugees end up. There are now more than 2,000 here.
“Even though the resettlement office settles Yazidis elsewhere, they end up a year later or even six months later, giving up whatever they have collected and they end up coming to live here in Nebraska,” Khalaf said.