Aida's Story

Aida* is a woman who, until two years ago, was living in Eastern Europe with her husband and two children. She came to Utah for a teaching opportunity and planned to stay just one year. Just before she was to return to Eastern Europe, Aida learned that her husband, who was a political activist, had been arrested while participating in an anti-government rally. He was detained by the police and was never again heard from. Aida feared the worst- that her husband had been tortured and, perhaps, killed by those loyal to the government.

When Aida first arrived at UHHR she was frantic. She was not sleeping, was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, had difficulty concentrating and kept seeing faces of men she believed she recognized as members of the secret police in Russia. Aida felt hopeless and very alone. She had to quit her teaching job because she had difficulty making it through the day, let alone feeling up to the pressures of a difficult job. A close friend of hers took her younger son to live with her while Aida tried to stabilize. Aida asked UHHR for help in applying for asylum and asked for assistance with her mental health issues. In addition to the symptoms that are common with PTSD (e.g. exaggerated startle response, hyper vigilance, hyper arousal and feeling as though she were reliving the events of her husband's capture), Aida also had chronic pain and anxiety symptoms that mimicked a heart attack. Her anxiety increased dramatically during those first few weeks of therapy but then, slowly but surely, the symptoms began to abate. Aida demonstrated remarkable resiliency in the face of the unknown and great loss.

UHHR helped Aida by referring her to a superb immigration attorney who helped Aida complete her affidavit and then helped her prepare for her asylum interview. Her therapist worked to provide Aida with tools to reduce her feelings of panic and stress and helped her to find the strength to raise her children despite the crushing loss of their father. Aida's pain improved as we referred her to one of our volunteer massage therapists and her mood and sleep improved with the help of medications prescribed by our psychiatrist. One of our staff found a way to get Aida's teenage son into a local private school on a scholarship as well- something that thrilled Aida as she had worried that her son would be bullied at the Middle School he was supposed to attend. All of these interventions would not have been successful had Aida not worked hard at applying what she was learning and believing she could get better.

We were all thrilled the day we learned that the asylum officer approved Aida's request for asylum after just the initial interview (without having to see an Immigration Judge). And over the next few months, Aida has changed dramatically for the better. When she came to see us recently, she was virtually unrecognizable from the Aida that first presented at our door. She exuded self-confidence and happiness as she talked about the job, and continued education opportunities, she was exploring. Aida continues to come in to report on progress from time to time and frequently thanks the members of the organization for the help she received from us.

*All names have been changed and the stories altered to protect our client’s security and privacy.