While many were enjoying the holiday season and preparing for New Year's celebrations, Suleiman Baraka was receiving the worst news of his life on Dec. 29, 2008: An Israeli bomb had hit his home in Gaza.
"I heard the news that day they had bombed my town," Baraka, a Hampton, Va.-based postdoctoral assistant, said. "I wanted to call anybody I knew in the nearby area."
Baraka, an astrophysicist working with Virginia Tech and the National Institute of Aerospace for NASA, came to the United States from Gaza in Oct. 2008. He left his family behind to complete his research but could not predict the violence that was soon to hit his home.
After frantically calling around, he found out that his 11-year-old son Ibrahim had been critically injured with shrapnel found in his brain, hand, and leg. Learning that his son was being taken to a hospital in Cairo, Egypt, Baraka knew he had to leave immediately.
"When they say he was on his way to Egypt, I decided to go to Egypt to try to move him to a better place, maybe Europe or Saudi Arabia," Baraka said. "In Egypt there are some good doctors, but the facilities are very poor." Leaving Dec. 31, 2008, Baraka was with his son at a Cairo hospital Jan. 1, 2009.
"The first time I saw him I couldn't believe my eyes," Baraka said. Only days later, on Jan. 5, Baraka received a call from the doctor that his son had passed away.
"The news about him was shocking, and it didn't leave me any space to think," Baraka said. "When they were preparing him in the coffin, I was looking on and thinking, 'Is that my son?'" Baraka spoke highly of his late son.
"From his early years, he showed a very strong character," Baraka said. He noted that his son was receiving the best grades of his life and had been ranked at the top of his class just before he died.
"It makes me extremely sad, when I know he was the best," Baraka said.
Ibrahim's funeral took place on Jan.6, but Suleiman was unable to enter into Gaza to attend his son's funeral and see his family due to travel restrictions.
"It was very devastating to send my son away without attending the funeral or seeing any of my friends and family," Baraka said. "I cannot even hug my other children."
Instead, Baraka spent two days alone in Cairo waiting for his return flight.
"It was one of the hardest times ever in my life," Baraka said. "I was walking alone in Cairo and crying in the street." Baraka resolved to keep his composure.
"I said to myself, 'If I continue like this I will die,"' Baraka said. He had more issues to deal with. The bombing of his house had left his family, including Ibrahim's two siblings, homeless.
"They are without a home, without shelter," Baraka said. He called on his brother to find an apartment for his family, but a search for housing proved unsuccessful.
"They're currently living in a basement without any facilities," Baraka said.
Now back in Hampton, Baraka is filling out paperwork to allow for his family to come to America.
"I need my family to be with around me, because I have some commitments to Virginia Tech," Baraka said. "It was in my mind I wanted to make a difference."
Despite his incredible suffering, Baraka carries no lasting anger with him.
"Building bridges is much better than building walls, even for those who hurt me. I have no sense of revenge or hatred."