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Doing His Part: Transforming a Community by Empowering Refugees & Immigrants

When you see Amer Al Fayadh, you notice two things. First, he carries three cell phones, which is at least one more than some of the most connected people out there. Second, there is a story behind his eyes. Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising since he was forced to flee his home country of Iraq. But no matter what came before he arrived in the United States, he’s not looking back. In fact, you get the feeling it’s because of his story that everything about him looks forward—with gratitude, hope, and generosity.

ASSETS’ blogger Bethany Bachman talks with Communication Essentials owner Amer Al Fayadh at the Lancaster Marriot at Penn Square and Lancaster County Convention Center

As the founder of Communication Essentials, a provider of interpretation, translation, and other cross-cultural resources in Lancaster, he’s changing the lives of his clients, the refugees and immigrants he employs, and other entrepreneurs. 

The start of Amer’s path to this point looked doubtful. Arriving in the U.S. with a degree in engineering, he anticipated finding work in his field. But other members of the refugee and immigrant community had discouraging news. He recalls them saying,

“Do you see this person? He’s an engineer. This person? He’s a dentist. This person? An accountant. And they’re all doing entry-level jobs. Don’t bother.”

When the advisor at a local community college bluntly told him his diploma was worth nothing, Amer says “I started believing I was worth nothing.”

When he applied for jobs, he was told he was overqualified or “not a good fit.” As a single man of Middle Eastern descent, he was unable to secure housing for himself. He reflects, “I started giving up on the idea of prospering in this country.” And he began debating whether he should return to Iraq. The weight of that consideration is not missed since Amer fled his country because of war.

Amid this uncertainty, an opportunity to volunteer as a driver and interpreter for Arabic-speaking immigrants came from Church World Services, the refugee resettlement agency that had helped bring his family to the United States. He calls that job his ”saving grace” because he says, “it transformed how I process and view things. I started viewing challenges as opportunities. That opened up a lot of doors for me.” What started as a temporary, unpaid position turned into an eight-year career—and many valuable connections with people in the community.

Through his work at CWS, Amer came into contact with immigrants from over thirty nations. As he learned more about them, a troubling and all-too-familiar pattern emerged. “They all had the same sad story: a career and accomplishments in their home country and then when they came to the U.S., they started going backward,” he says. It gave him an idea, which he pitched to his supervisor at CWS: train immigrants to work as interpreters in the Lancaster community. He explains,

“There are plenty of talented people in this town but they are sitting on the sidelines, waiting. Many refugees give up on their dreams because they need to make a living.”

He continues, ”I was thankful for the connections I had made and wanted to replicate that opportunity for others. I wanted to be that bridge.”

Having previously run a small office supply company with his brother in Iraq, Amer already knew something of entrepreneurship. He remembered it being fun. “You get to creatively problem-solve and work hard knowing that you’re doing a service to the community. That idea never left my mind.” During his time at CWS, the impact of nonprofit organizations inspired him.

“I started thinking about using the power of business to do good in the community.”

This newfound interest led to Amer’s eventual involvement with ASSETS.

As Amer learned about ASSETS’ work and the many services we offer, he says he was impressed. “Until I got introduced to ASSETS, I didn’t know there was a movement of ‘business for good,’” he recalls. 

In 2017, when his company was named Language Beyond Borders and still under the auspices of CWS, Amer participated in The Great Social Enterprise Pitch, ASSETS’ annual competition for impact-focused businesses. Language Beyond Borders won 4th place and over $5,000 in cash and pro-bono services.

With a win under his belt, Amer was looking to the future. In December of 2020, with CWS’s blessing, Amer struck out on his own and founded Communication Essentials, the independently-owned reboot of Language Beyond Borders. 

In 2021, Amer connected again with ASSETS, completing both the Marketing Storytelling Accelerator and the Business Development Accelerator classes, deepening the strength of his brand and learning how to navigate successfully in the post-COVID world.

Did you know?

ASSETS offers non-traditional, executive-style learning for busy entrepreneurs. Courses in marketing, finance, and business development are available for all stages of business—ideas, start-ups and established businesses. Learn more by checking out ASSETS’ Course Book.

The lessons Amer learned through ASSETS’ Entrepreneur Training services continue to impact his business practices. “I still utilize the customer journey [taught at the Business Development Accelerator],” he says. “Now instead of worrying about what I think is the best way to do X, Y, and Z, I think about what my customer thinks is best. I’m always thinking of how I can make their experience better.” 

And that means every customer. He explains, “Whether they are a $1,000 or a $10 customer, they all get the same treatment.”

Amer is thankful for the positive impact ASSETS had on his small business journey, but he understands our reach as going far beyond the individual.

“ASSETS is doing the grassroots work of promoting and educating the community about ethical business. In any new movement, you have to do a lot of education on the ground. They play an important role in that.” 

After being on the receiving end of our services, he now gives back as a member of ASSETS’ Loan Review Committee—which involves overseeing the organization’s loan portfolio, approving or denying loan applications, and implementing lending policies and procedures. ASSETS also contracts Amer to assist with interpretation needs.

Looking to the future, Amer says with a smile,

“The sky is the limit. As we grow, my ultimate goal is to consider how we can serve this community best. That’s only accomplished by giving my customers the tools they need to serve and communicate with the larger community.”

He envisions what he calls “language justice.” He explains, “Language access—for example, when a company uses a language line if necessary—is burdensome and puts the non-English speaker at a disadvantage. Language justice, on the other hand, is proactive, working with communities through education, advocacy, being welcoming, or being equipped to meet needs, regardless of cultural background or English language abilities.” With Lancaster’s 2019 designation as a Certified Welcoming Community, these seeds are planted in fertile soil.

For his part, Amer is living the language justice mission, not only in his interactions with customers but also with fellow entrepreneurs. Recently, another immigrant asked Amer to help him navigate the steps to starting his own tailoring business in Lancaster. Taking what he learned through his classes at ASSETS, Amer assisted him with the paperwork and helped him open a shop. 

Amer sees this help as having a ripple effect. “Not only is he renting a spot in town, but he’s also paying taxes in town, and he’s providing a much-needed service. He dreams of hiring tailors who can’t find work in other states to come and work with him. They’ll bring their wives and children [to fill other open jobs] and the benefits will continue to multiply.” Of the business owner, Amer says,

“Now you can see the happiness on his face…because he’s alive again. That’s what I want to see happen in Lancaster—for people to feel valued and appreciated. Every person I’ve met from over thirty countries wants to give back and contribute.”

If Amer’s story was purely one of overcoming barriers to make a life in a new country, it would be inspiring. It’s his humility and generosity toward others that make it extraordinary. “I want to transform this community because I care and I love it a lot,” he says, and then he pauses. After a moment, he explains that in his culture, the use of the word “I” is frowned upon, because the larger community is most important. It seems momentarily difficult for him to reconcile that value system with the Western context, but then he takes a breath, smiles, and states confidently, “I will do my part.”

Ready to take the next steps?

  • Visit Communication Essentials to learn more about Amer’s interpretation, translation, and cross-cultural services.
  • Explore ASSETS’ Course Book to check out the classes that Amer took. We’re now enrolling for the Fall!