If you’ve visited our Mercer Island store, you’re probably familiar with Mohamad’s kind, infectious smile.
On December 8, Mohamad Imran, 22, a Muslim Rohingya, embraced his parents, three siblings, and three other family members for the first time in a decade. His family had just arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport en route from one of the world’s largest refugee camps, located in Bangladesh. The camp is inhabited mostly by Rohingya refugees forced to flee the devastating genocide in their native Myanmar.
The tearful reunion represented the culmination of a journey fraught with hardship, resilience, and Mohamad’s irrepressible, bright spirit. He arrived on Mercer Island in 2016 where he was placed with a foster family and enrolled in Mercer Island High School. He could not speak or read English, nor write in any language. When he was 12, his parents had made the agonizing choice to put him on a boat to escape the violence at home. His harrowing odyssey took him from Myanmar to Thailand and finally to Malaysia where he was imprisoned. Through an intervention by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mohamad was granted the opportunity to come to the U.S. He learned English, dedicated himself to his studies, and found a welcoming and supportive community on Mercer Island. After graduating from Mercer Island High School, Mohamad enrolled at Bellevue College where he is in his second year of studying accounting. Getting his family out of the refugee camp in Bangladesh has been fervent dream of Mohamad’s. It was made possible by Mohamad’s perseverance, the support of many local politicians including former Governor Gary Locke, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene, and Congressman Adam Smith, and the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program.
For the last three years, Mohamad has worked part-time at Pagliacci’s Mercer Island store, and has sent much of his paycheck to support his family in the refugee camp. He fills many roles at Pagliacci, sometimes doing prep work in the mornings, working the salad station or the front counter in the evenings. “I got the job while I was in high school, and now that I’m in college, I keep the job less for the money and more for the community,” says Mohamad. “Basically, they make me feel I am truly welcome.” The warmth and camaraderie he experiences at Pagliacci have been pivotal in his life, especially as a student balancing work and studies. In June of 2023, Mohamad received the Da Vinci award at Pagliacci’s company-wide award ceremony. Matt Galvin, Pagliacci co-owner says, “It has been amazing to have Mohamad working for Pagliacci. His story is inspiring. I am so impressed by his citizenship and his pursuit of the American dream.”
Though Mohamad has found temporary housing for his family on Mercer Island, many challenges await. His mother has lung cancer and will need continuing treatment. Getting his siblings educated was another central motivation. They will enroll in the Mercer Island schools. “My siblings are 14, 12, and 9,” says Mohamad. “I believe that if they get an education, they will have a high chance of helping the Rohingya people. I want them to have a better life. I’m really happy for my family but also a little scared. They are genocide survivors. Everything is so expensive and we have many financial challenges. Taking responsibility for eight people is tough.” To help with his family’s resettlement, Mohamad has created a GoFundMe to support essential needs like housing, food, and other associated expenses. The link contains much more of his inspiring journey, told in his own words, as well as links to a book he co-wrote and numerous articles about him.
“I’m really proud and beyond grateful for the Mercer Island community and for all those who helped bring me and my family here,” says Mohamad. “I am also deeply thankful for the Pagliacci community and the chance to work for the company. I’m so blessed. In the future, probably after getting my accounting degree, I hope to get a job with their accounting team.”
*Images provided by Andy Nystrom of Mercer Island Reporter.