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Exchange student brings Iraqi, Syrian refugee kids to Zoom Flume for a day of fun

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    Jada Kitson/Columbia-Greene Media Refugee kids from Iraq and Syria playing in the wave pool at Zoom Flume on Friday thanks to Sultan Elmanaseer, a J-I visa student working at the water park.
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    Jada Kitson/Columbia-Greene Media From left, Al Shams Hood, 14, Ahmad Hood, 12, Abdullah Hood, 17, all from Iraq; Sultan Elmanaseer, 21, from Jordan; Khalil Al Kahrman, 14, from Syria; and Abdulkareem Khrman, 15, from Syria.
August 27, 2017 - 12:15 am Updated: August 31, 2017 - 07:13 pm

EAST DURHAM — Abdullah Hood, 17, is a refugee from a city near Baghdad called Al Anbar who was brought to the U.S. by the United Nations as his family fled from the city before it was overtaken by ISIS forces.

Hood arrived in the U.S. a year an a half ago after being moved to Baghdad and then Amman, the capital of Jordan, and now lives at the Islamic Center of the Capital Region in Colonie.

“My mother taught English. We left the city one week before ISIS knew my mother taught English,” Hood said. “The war is there. They ruin it. The last two years they destroy my home.”

Hood is the oldest of the five refugee kids from Iraq and Syria that Sultan Elmanaseer, 21, from Amman, paid to bring to Zoom Flume for a day of fun and relaxation.

Elmanaseer has a J-1 visa through the CCI Walk and Travel program, through which he does volunteer work in different countries. A J-1 visa is issued by a non-immigrant visa program that enables approved individuals to “participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs,” according to the U.S. Department of State website.

This summer, while in the U.S., Elmanaseer is working with several other J-1 students from Jordan at Zoom Flume.

“I was just at a conference with Nobel Leaders in Washington D.C. from July 30 to Aug. 4,” Elmanaseer said. “We talked about social justice.”

He said he started volunteering with his friends last year in Jordan, but he wanted to do more.

“This is a part of my life,” Elmanaseer said. “I know my people. I see the war and I feel bad. If you have an opportunity to help people, you should do it.”

Originally Elmanaseer planned to undertake a massive project of working with a Christian church and a mosque to bring more refugee families into the country, but he said it would be too expensive and too big of a project for him to tackle right now, so he worked with the Islamic Center to bring two families to the water park for a day of fun after a long couple of years.

“I wanted to do something different. If no one can help me, I have to help myself,” Elmanaseer said. “I have to change something. It was a big deal for these kids to move here. They can’t play or talk or go outside because they are traumatized by the war.”

He said a few of the kids refused to go on the water slides because they were scared due to trauma, so they spent most of the day having fun in the wave pool.

The kids were Al Shams Hood, 14, Ahmad Hood, 12, Khalil Al Kahrman, 14, from Syria, and Abdulkareem Khrman, 15, from Syria.

“It is very fun [at the water park],” Hood said. “This is the second time I am going on the slides, which are very fun.”

Hood said getting used to living in the U.S. has been difficult, but he is getting used to it.

“I don’t miss home too much. Now I can walk anywhere I want,” Hood said. “It is cool here. The first two weeks were hard, but once you get used to it, it becomes easy.”

Hood attends Albany High School right now, but wants to go to medical school and become a doctor.

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The privately funded J-1 visa programs are an important U.S. foreign policy tool that helps to build greater understanding of the American people and culture around the world: https://www.aifs.com/savingJ1/