Former Iraqi refugee paying it forward by helping Afghan arrivals

Ayad Kaisi, slight in stature yet known for his big heart, is a former Iraqi refugee who has become an “ambassador” for the Center for Refugee Services as a devoted volunteer and board member.

Without family in the U.S., Kaisi said, “They are like a family to me. It’s become part of my life.”

“I’m still driven by the need of a family,” he said.

That, coupled with his faith as a Christian, is why Kaisi said he’s helping Afghan arrivals however he can as his way of paying it forward.

Kaisi, who worked as a petroleum engineer and later a businessman who sold dialysis machines in Iraq, became a U.S. military interpreter like many Afghan men who’ve come to San Antonio.

Kaisi also had to leave his country because of armed militias and instability after the fall of Saddam Hussein. He said many of his friends and colleagues were disappearing.

“They don’t come back again,” Kaisi said. “Then, later, we hear that they’re being simply killed and kidnapped.”

Up until then, Kaisi said he’d never considered coming to the United States until he had no choice.

When he applied for his visa in 2007, one of his sponsors was a military chaplain from La Vernia.

“Oh, I am going to La Vernia. I thought it was a big city or something,” Kaisi said.

The chaplain recommended Kaisi come to San Antonio because the climate is somewhat similar to Iraq.

Years later, having become a U.S. citizen, Kaisi said, “I’m now part of this great nation.”