REAP Success Story: Haidar Shubber

From student to volunteer mentor to chef and inspiration


On the last day of the Refugee Employment Attainment Program’s five week summer series, Haidar Shubber, a REAP volunteer, received a fitting parting gift of pots of fresh herbs and seasonings.


“Haidar has been invaluable to the program. Not only has he been able to teach the non-English speaking students far more effectively through his ability to translate and explain the grammar in Arabic, he has brought new students to the classes and always provides the most exquisite Iraqi food which he shares with all the students, teachers, and tutors,” Emily Feuerherm, the co-director of REAP said.


REAP, which provides ESL and vocational job training to refugees, is run on a completely volunteer basis by certified ESL instructors and community members.


Currently a volunteer mentor, Haidar spends his time at REAP classes translating and encouraging other students. But what makes Haidar a particularly understanding volunteer is that he was once a REAP student, who came from Iraq as a refugee.


By knowing his own culture and people, Haidar increased attendance among REAP students and expanded the REAP program by incorporating a more social element through cooking.


“Iraqis are social people whenever they gather they like to chat to each other. So [I cook] in order to make the [class] educational on one hand and joyful on the other,” Shubber said.


Haidar explains that he spends about three to four hours before each class cooking enough food for all the students and volunteers.


On the menu: Iraqi cuisine, including tapola, lentil soup, fried and grilled fish, and falalfels.


As a student Haidar said that REAP helped him to understand American culture and that as a volunteer mentor he can now help REAP students do the same.


“I’m always motivating [the students] on attending the class to learn more about the American culture and habits. And also helping the [other volunteers] know more about the Iraqi traditions,” Shubber said.


And indeed on the last day of class one could find students and volunteers talking, taking pictures, and of course, eating and sharing home cooked Iraqi dishes.


“I cannot praise Haidar enough and cannot imagine the class without him,” Fererherm said.