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Sibling immigrants from Middle East earn ESL degree from Black Hawk College

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MOLINE, Illinois — A certificate of English proficiency looks a lot like a ticket for a better life, for brother and sister Ahmed and Aroa Afef.

In 2007, they fled their home country of Iraq because of the war and went to Syria. Then, Syria got worse, so they moved to Lebanon, before finally, Ahmed, Aroa and their parents, with the help of the United Nations, got on a flight to the United States.

"Our life was hard like moving between countries," said Aroa. "Facing war in each country, facing fear, so for me to start here, it's like a new beginning."

The World Relief in Moline helped the family of four get on their feet. Within a month, Ahmed, 24 was working the third shift at Berry Plastics in Bettendorf

"I didn't speak good English," said Ahmed. "I would sit like in the briefing before every shift and I would like, 'what are they talking about?'"

Life in America revved up quick.

"It's a shock in the beginning, I have never worked before and then I go work third shift, in a factory," said Ahmed.

After taking the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency, Ahmed enrolled in level 6 and 7 of Black Hawk College's English as Second Language academic program. It took him two semesters to complete the program.

"I don't see myself going back to my country, so this is the only way for me to be able to be successful in life in the US," said Ahmed, who will go on to take college classes at Black Hawk. He is undecided between a career in IT or Dietetics.

Both Ahmed and Aroa work at Jumers Casino when they are not studying. Aroa, 25 wants to go on to get a business management degree.

"I think after you face death many, many times you feel like life worth it," said Aroa. "Life worth it to accomplish, to do things."

The siblings' journey of immigration will continue though the have competed the ESL course. It's all a part of fitting into life in America. They hope to become naturalized citizens once they have completed the requirement of being in the United States for five years.

"It's not just the language, it's like a whole new life and you have to learn it again, you have to start all over," said Aroa.