Nawfal Rassam's resume includes many 'tech' jobs but also includes two stints in the Iraqi military
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
Nawfal Rassam isn't your average computer geek. The 51-year-old native of Iraq has been through two wars, was responsible for his family after the death of his father, and uprooted his life, moving his family to Vancouver after his country became too dangerous to live in after the first Gulf War.
Rassam, the new IT support technician for the Archdiocese of Vancouver, credits his faith with helping him to persevere through those tough hardships.
Born in Baghdad in 1960 into a Syriac Catholic household, Rassam grew up attending a private school. His father worked in the oil industry. Rassam said his parents were good examples for him and maintained a good family.
After graduating from high school Rassam served his mandated 14 months in the Iraqi army, then enrolled in the University of Technology in Baghdad and graduated with an engineering degree.
The degree came in handy when Rassam was called back to military service when war broke out with Iran. He was spared a combat role, serving instead as a technician at a Southern Iraq air force base.
But while Rassam was spared from combat he wasn't spared from hardship. His father died in 1983 and Rassam, the oldest of four children, was now the head of the household.
"I was the eldest brother, so it was my responsibility to take care of the family," he said. Rassam looked after the affairs of his two younger sisters and his younger brother.
To help him through this time he attended the famous 1,000-year-old Chaldean Church Miskinta, famous for attracting Muslims who ask for the intercession of Mary.
"I was dealing with personal problems and I thought the (church) was the only place that could help," Rassam said. "Once I started going there I changed from going once every week to every day. I then made it a personal vow to go daily."
After finishing his military service in 1986, Rassam worked for Iraqi Airways at Saddam International Airport (now Baghdad International Airport) in the computer centre. There he met his wife Hamsa, also an engineer.
One year later the couple had a daughter they named Lourde after the Our Lady of Lourdes miracle in France.
Soon after Lourde's birth, Rassam was required to serve in the military again during the Gulf War. This time he was much closer to combat.
"This time I was stationed at the command centre (in Baghdad)," he said. "The centre was bombed Jan. 17, 1991, by the U.S. military. But two days before, my commander had ordered me to change my shift so I could discuss computer equipment with IBM. Every time I think about that I think there must a be a greater power out there."
After the Gulf War, Rassam said Iraq became a difficult country to live in. He thought about relocating his family to Australia, but his mother-in-law convinced the family to move near her in San Diego. The family was not able immigrate to the U.S., so they chose Canada in 1995.
Rassam initially chose to live in Windsor, Ont., because there was a large Iraqi community there, but a conversation with a childhood friend convinced him to choose Vancouver instead.
Although Rassam is happy with his life in the Lower Mainland, he still gets emotional thinking about the violence in his homeland, especially after the 2003 Iraq War.
"We had our depressions in 2003," Rassam said. "We would sit and cry at what we were seeing on the news because we would call our relatives and know what's going on over
there. At a certain point I stopped watching the news because it was too much for me."
He heard, daily, about the deaths of friends and relatives. This included his brother-in-law, killed accidentally by U.S. soldiers.
Rassam and his family now live in Coquitlam and attend Sts. Peter and Paul Chaldean Church, hosted by Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Surrey. He worked at different IT and communication jobs before he was hired by the Archdiocese of Vancouver earlier this year. He said he feels blessed to work for the Church.
"It's a nice feeling being able to work in an environment where you can talk about the Virgin Mary and help the parishes," he said.
Even though the violence in Iraq has eased a bit in recent years, Rassam still hurts for his country's suffering. He said while he was growing up in the '70s and '80s Muslims and Christians would celebrate the holidays together in peace.
"We didn't choose friends based on faith; my closest friend is Muslim and we didn't think about our differences."