In 2000, 15-year-old Mohammed Chyad was a member of Iraq’s National Badminton Team and translator. Then, after the U.S. Invasion of Iraq in 2003, everything changed.
No longer feeling safe in his home country Chyad applied to come to the United States. It took nine years for Chyad’s hope to come true but in 2012 he arrived in the U.S. as a political refugee.
Today, Chyad lives on the north side of Chicago with his wife and two children and works as a teacher’s assistant at West Ridge Elementary school but his passion for badminton hasn’t died down.
Chyad, or as they call him at school, Mr. Mohammed, can be found before school, after school, or during his lunch break practicing badminton.
Chyad, who came to the United States in 2012 as a political refugee, calls the people at West Ridge Elementary his family in the United States. His colleagues such as Albert “Al” Sanchez, class room assistant and volleyball coach, help him practice badminton. “I’m a social person,” he said. “I try always to put different groups from different ethnicities to let them be together” Chyad especially enjoyed the National Badminton team. Different parts of Iraq with different cultures and languages came together as athletes he said. It was about the sport, not religion or politics.
Made up of 750 students West Ridge Elementary students speak over 43 different languages. According to the United States Census Bureau, 28 percent of Arabs in Chicago speak English “less than very well.” West Ridge principle, Antigoni Lambrinides-Sofios, said teachers like Mohammed Chyad are essential to break language barriers between parents and non-Arabic speakers within the school.
Thanks to Chyad, West Ridge Elementary is the only school on the Northside of Chicago that plays badminton but Chyad does not intend to step there.
“It‘s my dream to create a team here,” he said.
Chyad said children from 7 to 9 learn the fastest and he embraces teaching them.
Chyad is a natural coach, to the point that even when he is playing against his colleagues in the school he will give them verbal aids to help them improve their form and strategy.
After a couple of pickup matches, beads of sweat drip off Chyad’s face, but he said he only looks tired. This is his passion.