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Refugees Bring Old Skills to New Business



When Parvin and Yadollah Jamalreza came to the U.S. from Iran, they brought two suitcases and a 100-year-old pair of scissors.

In the suitcases were just “some clothes, nothing much," Parvin says, but the scissors has special value for them.

“This is very old and dear to us. We brought it from Iran. My husband bought it 40 years ago from that guy who worked with that for 60, 65 years. It is almost 100 years old, that scissors has, and it really still is working well.”

Parvin Jamalreza and her husband Yadollah own a tailoring shop called Yady’s Alteration in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Eleven years ago, they were accepted into the United States as refugees along with their three children. They had lived in Turkey as refugees for a year.

“When we came to [the] United States and Charlottesville airport we don’t know what we do. But somebody called our name and we [were] very excited, oh, ok, somebody knows us.”

A woman named Barbara from the International Rescue Committee helped them. The IRC helps refugees resettle and find housing and work. Barbara took them to a house that had been prepared for them.

Parvin soon began working at a tailor shop. She says she knew what to do even though she could not speak English.

“Because this is my thing. I know that, you know. I worked in my country actually like, before I came here about 25 years, I worked making clothes. That’s what makes me more happy to find exactly what I have a skill with that.”

She did not work at the shop for very long. Two years later, she and her husband opened their own shop. They now do work that very few Americans do anymore. Parvin says she works on cloth and her husband works on leather.

When they opened their shop, they advertised a lot. But they stopped advertising long ago. Their customers told others about their work and many people began paying them to work on their clothes. Getty Goedken is one of their customers.

“This is actually my first time. One of my friends who has lived here forever, they came heavily recommended. So I figured I’d go on his word, and he's always had great work done here. And s o, especially with what I picked up today I am very, very happy.”

Parvin says all of their hard work has helped them make a profitable business.

“I am feel successful about where I am now because I am really working hard. Where our business now is really good. I make people happy and people make me happy.”

The Jamalrezas bought their own house four years ago, and all their children have completed college and are working. The family loves living in Charlottesville.

“People here [are] very friendly, very kind, and very generous. I never feel I am a refugee. No, never. I am proud to be a member of this community.”

Another thing she likes about Charlottesville is that it is an “old town. It has history here.” It was an important place in the early days of the U.S. The third president, Thomas Jefferson, had his home nearby. So did the fourth and fifth presidents, James Madison and James Monroe.

I’m Anne Ball.

VOA Correspondent June Soh reported this story from Charlottesville, Virginia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

suitcase - n. a large case that you use to carry your clothing and belongings when you are traveling

scissors - n. a tool used for cutting paper, cloth, etc., that has two blades joined together in the middle so that the sharp edges slide against each other

dear - adj. highly valued

alteration - n. the act, process, or result of changing or altering something

my thing - idiom. something you like to do or do well

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