Iraqi immigrant helps refugees learn hairstyling trade

Samira Lejen's hand quickly moves from right to left in a notebook as she translates into Arabic a demonstration on trimming a man's hair.

Nada Korkis sits next to her, recording the hair cut on a cell phone, a trick that will help her understand the stylist's English when she gets home.

Lejen and Korkis are making over more than their careers this spring at Modesto's Dior School of Cosmetology.

They're refugees from the Iraq war learning a trade so they can begin to support their families during a recession that makes jobs scarce even for native speakers.

"It's a good chance to start over," said Korkis, 38, who has not seen her husband in nearly five years and is raising her three children on her own.

Sam Rasho, the school's owner, lent these students a hand up, waiving $12,000 in tuition for them and 13 other refugees. They must spend eight more months in class before they'll be ready to seek a license from the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

"People helped me, so I felt it was my duty to help them," said Rasho, who left Iraq and arrived in Chicago in 1974.

Like many refugees, Rasho's students came to the United States with little more than the clothes they could fit in suitcases, content to find safety but scared to make their way in a new country.

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