On an average day, Dr. Raed Ayoub treats between 20 and 30 people at his dental clinic in Chicago. When he lived in Iraq, he used to see twice as many patients.
“I worked through different civil wars. I used to walk between the dead bodies,” he explained.
Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, his commute consists of a lonely drive on empty highways to his dental practice in Chicago’s suburbs.
Raed is a 39-year-old single father of two young sons. He is a dentist providing emergency care to patients who need him during a global crisis. He is also a refugee.
By 2015, Iraq was embroiled in civil war and Raed’s home in Mosul was under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS).
Wanting safety and security for his family, Raed applied for resettlement in the United States. Fortunately, he and his children were approved quickly. But like many refugees leaving the lives they had worked hard to build, Raed was worried about providing for his family and starting over in a new country.
“…Starting from Baghdad, to Jordan, then to Chicago, all the way I [was] thinking and I [was] looking [at] my kids: can I support them?” Raed said. “Can I do it or not?”
In Iraq, Raed was a surgeon and dean of a faculty of dentistry. In the United States, he had to start over. Since his qualifications were not valid in the United States, at age 35, Raed went back to school to get his dental degree and began rebuilding his life.
“I started to study from scratch. I started to do all my exams again. I applied for [dental] school, I got [into] residency, then I finished my residency, and then I started to work again.”
Within four years of moving, Raed was practicing dentistry again. “I didn’t waste even one minute,” he recalled.
Raed was determined to become a part of the community in Chicago, both professionally and personally. He went out to markets, grocery stores, and parties. Raed always asked questions and struck up conversations with anyone he could. He took his sons out for picnics and swimming at the beach.
Soon Raed started to feel like he was home.
“You can’t feel that you are stranger. You can find people from different cultures [who] started the same as you and they are working with you now,” he said. “Even the little spices [from Iraq] I can get [in Chicago]. So sometimes, I feel at home, there’s no difference between here and my home.”
Raed is continuing to support his community during the COVID-19 pandemic by keeping his practice open for emergency dental visits. “My goal was to work together with my colleagues who are on the frontier and to support the local hospitals by preserving ER resources for COVID-19 patients and other emergencies.”
Even during these challenging times, Raed still sees as many dental patients as possible, taking some of the burden off of local hospitals dealing with the pandemic. By keeping the doors to his clinic open, emergency rooms have more beds, staff, and equipment dedicated to the patients who really need them. He just wants to help his community stay healthy.
“I can return back home, and I feel that I’m satisfied about what I did because I relieved the pain for those people.”
Like many refugees, Raed wants to give back to the community that welcomed him. “If we get the chance, we will be part of this community. We will never let down this community,” he said.
While Raed misses his mother, who still lives in Mosul, and his brothers and sisters, he has embraced his new life in America.
“Home is the place where I feel secure from any threats and can participate in all the daily activities without any stress. Home is the place where I have the unlimited freedom to achieve my goals and dreams.”
In Chicago, Raed found home.
This story is part of a campaign highlighting stories of refugees contributing to the Covid-19 response. Refugees International wishes to thank Refugee Congress, Refugee Council USA, We Are All America, and other partners for their collaboration.
Illustration by Arden Bentley.