Mr. Odabaee is the social worker whom some of us have been working with through Catholic Charity in order to help Bosnian refugees.
Thanks to Hedieh for posting this article. :-)
I'm sure some of you have read the attached already. Nevertheless, its such an inspiring article abour Mr. Odabaee that I thought I forward it to the group. The article was in the SJ Mercury News, 1/28/95 (sunday paper two weeks ago) and the title of the article was: Man on a mission - helping people.
IF YOU'RE INTERESTED
Anyone interested in helping Reza Odabaee in his work can volunteer
by calling Catholic Charities at (408)944-0282, ext. 159. Donations
may be sent to Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program,
2625 Zanker Road, Suite 201, San Jose, Calif 95134-2107.
He has piloted fighter jets at twice the speed of sound across Iranian deserts. He even taught the late Shah's son how to fly.
Reza Odabaee still moves at lightning speed-but in a much different capacity these days. His cockpit is now a bustling office at Catholic Charities in San Jose. And his mission is helping Vietnamese, Bosnian and Cuban newcomers settle into apartments, learn English, obtain medical care and find jobs.
For four years, this case manager in immigration and refugee services has been an all-around-problem-solver for the agency's mostly Catholic immigrants - even though he is Muslim. With a calming strength, he has been there for them at midnight, on weekends, even when they have come out of surgery.
"It doesn't matter what religeon, what country, what background you have," said Odabaee, 56, who is fluent in English, Persian and French and has picked up a few words of Serbo-Croatian and Spanish along the way. "You serve everyone here. I wanted to help people because I had just gone through the phase these people are going through."
A dozen years ago, Odabaee fled Iran to protect his sons from being thrust into a deadly war. Six years ago he and his family made their way to the United States. From his works in the Catholic charities, his abilities have become so well-known in the ethnic communities that he's become the person many immigrants now reach out to in a crisis.
"He's an amazing person" said sister Marilyn Lacey, director of the agency's immigration and refugee services. "He sees solutions; he doesn't see problems. And he will get it done before you turn around."
His goal is to help each of the 800 refugees the program resettles annually to support themselves. After going to start their own businesses, some of Odabaee's successes have come back to the Catholic Charities to hire other new comers.
Last year, Elena Troussova, a young Russian woman studying gat San Jose State University, barely survived a horrible car crash. Her left leg was broken so badly that it had to be amputated. With no medical insurance and mounting bills, she faced herself facing a monthlong hospital stay. Somehow her sister found out about Odabaee. After she called, he got in touch with volunteer organizations and O'Conner Hospital employees, who made it possible for the young woman to get the prosthesis and physical therapy needed.
Although Odabaee and Troussova had never met, fate intervened one day. Months later, while he was visiting a friend, he noticed a man helping a young woman get into a car. Something about her just seemed familiar, Odabaee said.
He went up to her and said "Elena?" She nodded. "I told her, 'I'm Reza,' and she just wentt crazy," Odabaee recalled with joy. Troussova now plans to do volunteer work at the Catholic Charities.
In a typical non-stop day last week, Odabaee loaded up a van full of mattresses, lamps and food to furnish apartments for eight cuban rafters arriving that night from detention camps in Cuba.
With the help of a spanish translator, he also taught a class for a dozen more Cuban refugees, instructing them on how to find a job in this country.
"When you get a job here, you have a supervisor who tells you what to do," he told them. "You must listen to your supervisor. Ask questions. In America, it's no problem. Don't be shy. Watch what others do."
As an immigrant, Odabaee settled here with a few advantages most refugess don't have, including a familiarity with this country and the ability to speak English. A member of the Iranian military, he was sent to the United States in 1962 where he gratuated from a special U.S. Airforce pilot training program.
He was drawn to flying because of the excitement and the sense of freedom. As a little boy, he made kites and had 100 pet canaries. As a starry-eyed 9 year old in his hometown of Mashad, in northeastern Iran, Odabaee would spend hours at the small airport, where - if he was lucky - two planes would land or take off each week.
He grew up to fly F-5 and F-4 fighter jets, then went on to be a training instructor for 15 years.
After the Iranian revolution ended and the air force was scaled down, Odabaee was forced to retire after 25 years of service. When war later errupted between Iraq and Iran, Odabaee feared his two sons, then 16 and 14, would end up being drawn into battle and killed. As a result, he and his family fled to Luxemborg, before making their way to Cupertino.
Odabaee tried to get a job as a flight instructor here, but found he could not support himself at it. And at his age, commercial airlines didn't leap to hire him. Although he used to fly planes for fun at the Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose, he stopped when it grew too expensive.
It's been two years now since he's sat in a pilot's seat, although he sometimes drives to nearby San Jose International Airport and parks by the runway to watch.
But as much as he loves flying, he says he couldn't give up a job where there is so much satisfaction in helping lives get better. Many refugees are grateful for his choice. Even though its been two years since Kwot and Nygare Gilo left Sudan, the two brothers still remember the care Odabaee took to get them jobs and to show them around San Jose.
"Even now, every week, even if we don't call Reza, he calls us to make
sure we're OK," Said Kwat Gilo, 24, an electronics assembler. "he
became a very good friend. We will not forget him."