Syrian refugee finds a new life & new purpose in Idaho

Shadi Ismail shares message of hope, acceptance
Posted at 9:20 AM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 08:08:19-04

KUNA, Idaho — During the month of August, Idaho News 6 is shining a light on the state's refugee community, showing how those looking to make a better life for themselves also make life better for everyone in the Gem State.

One of those refugees is Shadi Ismail, a Syrian refugee turned Kuna resident who had to leave his home behind after his family found out he was gay, something punishable by death in that country.

"I had to flee my country because I love who I love," Shadi told us. "And that was not acceptable."

When he arrived in Idaho nearly a decade ago, Shadi had very little to his name.

"I brought with me my heart, I brought my love, and literally that's all I brought with me because I had only my clothes and myself," Shadi recalls.

He also brought zero English but remembers vividly an encounter on the streets of downtown Boise early on that opened his heart to his new home.

"I didn't know where I wanted to walk and I saw a woman and I said hi. I showed her the address [written] on my hand."

That woman took Shadi's hand and led him where he needed to go, a moment he says he will never forget.

"That was my first experience," he says. "That literally opened my whole heart to where I [could] say, yes, I can have a life here."

Since settling in the Treasure Valley, Shadi has created a whole new life, from honing his cooking skills in the hopes of one day opening a falafel restaurant to hand-sewing custom-ordered traditional Syrian blankets and - most importantly to Shadi - buying his first home on a quiet street in Kuna.

"I was so excited when I got my American citizenship, but still, it was just a paper. Nice, but just a paper," he remembers. "But then when I had my home and I had my land, and I started working on it, I felt no different from anybody."

Shadi's most recent venture has turned him into a book. Not his story - but him - as part of the Human Library Book project.

"Basically you become a book, you yourself," Shadi explains. "You have a chapter of your life you share and talk about."

Shadi is passionate about this project, where a reader can "check out" a book - which really is the actual person - for 20 minutes or so to hear a chapter from their life.

"It's really unique because you get to see the world from my view of life."

Through this and everything he does, Shadi's goal is to spread the message that refugees may be from a different country, but aren't that different at all.

"Everything I have been doing, it's for one reason - it's building bridges. Showing people we are people as well. We came from different backgrounds but we love the same things, we feel the same things, we have emotions of the same things," he says.

If you're interested in seeing how the Human Library Book works, Shadi and others will be available for "check out" at Treefort Music Festival's Storyfort coming up in Boise in September. You can find the event schedule here.

If you'd like to see our past stories on Shadi and his courageous journey to America, check out this article from February of 2020, and also the very first time we met Shadi here on Idaho News 6.