Arriving in Alaska as a Somali refugee by way of Egypt comes with some expected shocks…namely, the weather. When Mahdi Akal was resettled in Anchorage with support from Refugee Assistance and Immigration Services (RAIS), both he and RAIS Director Issa Spatrisano would be pleasantly surprised to find a new friendship as well—and it all started at the airport.

Mahdi and Issa recently recorded an interview for the StoryCorps archive where they talk about Mahdi’s experience before and after resettling in Alaska. He talks about his first winter, the joy of meeting other Somali refugees, and how his family has once again found themselves farming so far from their old home.

If Issa’s and Mahdi’s story seems like an unlikely friendship at first, there’s no doubt by the end why the two have stayed connected over the years. They both had similar experiences in Alaska that have kept them there—a welcoming community that supports its neighbors—and their ongoing commitment to serving others.

Learn More About Refugee Resettlement

At RAIS, we meet a wide range of individuals and families who have arrived in the United States in the last five years.

To date, many RAIS clients have come from Somalia as well as countries like Sudan, Iraq, Bhutan, Congo, Burma, and Mexico. There are 16 different languages spoken. Despite the challenges of arriving in Alaska from all over the world, these resilient members of our community are building new skills, finding employment, and sharing their cultures (and recipes!) with all of us.

Have your own RAIS story to share? We’d love to hear from you. And if you’d like to support RAIS as a donor, volunteer, or by hiring a refugee, we invite you to learn more about getting involved and join us in celebrating World Refugee Day.

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