Montgomery County’s Stillwater Center is now home to a teenager who was left permanently disabled after surviving an attack by human traffickers. Surur Ali was seven when his family was kidnapped while trying to flee Eritrea in northeast Africa.
“Human traffickers hid them for a month and demanded a ransom – money or their kidneys,” said Mohammad Nur, Surur’s father, through a translator. “They gave them an injection. My older son and my sister-in-law died. My wife and Surur both got sick.”
Mohammad’s wife has since recovered, but Surur lost a kidney and is now partially paralyzed and unable to speak.
The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) says organ trafficking is of particular concern in North and West Africa. INTERPOL has now launched a new taskforce specifically to fight human trafficking for organ removal.
“It’s very hard having a sick child after everything that happened. It’s very, very hard,” said Nur.
The family was able to enter the United States as refugees in 2018, seven years after they escaped kidnappers. Therapy in Florida allowed Surer to learn how to ride an adaptive therapy trike and to communicate using signs and a special communication device.
When his parents began looking for a permanent home in 2021, Montgomery County’s Stillwater Center was at the top of the search results. It was one of the only intermediate care facilities with both the translation and recreational services Surur needed.
“It’s our privilege to be able to serve Surur and his family because the families have needs too,” said Dr. Michelle Mobley-Pierce, Director of the Stillwater Center. “When you see his face and you see the faces of the parents, they feel good knowing that they’ve left their loved one in good care with us.”
Staff at Stillwater Center were all taught basic greetings in his native language to help Surur and his family feel welcome. Surur is allowed to ride his trike throughout the facility. Staff also make sure he can go anywhere a teen might want to go in his wheelchair – from school every day to events like Hauntfest at Kings Island.
Surur’s family says he’s continuing to improve, gaining weight, improving his communication skills and making friends at school and with residents.
“He has been through a lot, and he suffered a lot. He’s getting better and we have high hopes for him here,” Mohammad said.
“The best thing about the Stillwater Center is the options they give us. They are giving us freedom to do what we need to for our son.
“If we didn’t have the help here, I don’t know where else we could go.”
“When I see Surur smile or I see any resident smile or any family, then I know we’re doing the right thing,” Dr. Pierce-Mobley said. “My hope for Surur is that when he turns the lights off at night, he feels safe and that we’re going to protect him and he won’t be harmed ever again.”