LOUISVILLE, Ky. ― He was a vegetable farmer in Syria before the civil war forced the family of seven to flee.
She is a University of Louisville professor who lives on an unused 16-acre farm.
So when sociologist Patricia Gagne read in The Courier-Journal about Ahmed Al Tybawi, his wife and five children ― she decided to offer them free use of her Taylorsville farm.
“I would love to see the land be put to use. Making it available to a refugee family would be even better,” said Gagne, whose rustic home is decorated with books and a wood-burning stove.
Earlier this month, five months after resettling in Louisville, Al Tybawi and his eldest son walked over pastures, checking out fencing and perusing empty barns and tractors – happy to be in a familiar element.
Maybe, Gagne told Al Tybawi through an interpreter as she showed him around, he could start a business or create a large garden to work on the weekends.
It marked just the latest offer of help from Louisville-area residents for the more than 100 Syrian refugees who have landed in Louisville over the past year.
Whether Al Tybawi could take advantage of the offer wasn’t clear. The family is still confronting hurdles in the U.S., such as not having a car to reach the farm. And with some initial aid starting to run out, he’d likely have to get an hourly job at a warehouse for expenses. But the fact that strangers were reaching out? Al Tybawi found that amazing, he said.
“Thank you for your kindness,” he said.
Another Syrian who operated a nursery in Syria but now lives in Louisville had accompanied him to visit Gagne’s farm. He began asking about seed loans and soil depth. Perhaps he could sell tomatoes, cabbage and eggplant to other refugees. Al Tybawi would have to give it careful thought.
Gagne explained that she wanted to do something to help the family, who spent several years in a United Nations camp in Jordan and as urban refugees before being admitted to the U.S. last fall.
At the time, President Barack Obama vowed to increase such resettlements amid a humanitarian crisis sparked by Syria’s civil war. But the move has since sparked a political backlash after attacks in Paris fueled worries over whether terrorists might sneak into the U.S. posing as refugees. Supporters of the refugees have noted that most are women and children or large families such as Al Tybawi’s now struggling to start anew.
“I hope that eventually something can happen,” Gagne told Al Tybawi. “They say that nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.”
The Courier-Journal has been following the journey of Al Tybawi and his family since last year.