Why celebrate World Refugee Day?
As World Refugee Day approaches, I’m celebrating our ability, once again, to gather in person for the epic One Journey Festival held at the Washington National Cathedral on June 25. Three years ago, I hosted my first Their Story is Our Story table in the Take Action Tent and began building a robust partnership with One Journey Festival and their sister organization NOVA Friends of Refugees, and other community partners.
At the 2019 festival, I met Erin Dixon, who was preparing to relocate with her family to Bogota, Colombia. After being evacuated by the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela due to a humanitarian crisis that forced millions of economic refugees to flee to Colombia, Erin was eager to return to that region to gather and share stories of displaced Venezuelans and Colombians. The work of Erin and her remarkable team can be reviewed in this Special Feature.
While World Refugee Day celebrations are returning in Washington D.C. and various other cities, I am also thinking about those areas in Europe and other regions that are so overwhelmed with attending to the vast needs of the millions of displaced people from Ukraine and other countries that it seems hardly appropriate to divert attention to celebrations. With so many distressed by inhumane atrocities, you might ask what there is to celebrate anyway?
When I entered this space seven years ago, I wouldn’t have known how to answer that question. But then I met Rawah, a shy 25-year-old woman from Iraq who spoke no English. Last month, I celebrated Rawah as she and her mother and father all became U.S. Citizens.
I honor their courage and unwavering hope despite so many obstacles. Today, Rawah is pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse and is mentoring two young Afghan women who recently arrived in her area. Rawah and our Utah Community Program Coordinator Shurooq Al Jewari both shared their path to citizenship in TSOS’s virtual World Refugee Day event held on 17 June, 2022. You can view a recording of that event HERE.
I am celebrating the deep wisdom of my friend Aline who has bravely shared both her challenges and her fortitude in videos and written stories. Aline, and others like her, have moved me to prioritize refugee mental health solutions in our collaborative work.
Following the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, as we anticipated the thousands of Afghans who would be arriving in the Washington D.C. area, our partners at Georgetown School of Medicine recognized that many would be suffering from the traumatic effects of their evacuation and subsequent staged resettlement. That led us to further partner with Egette Indelele, the founder of Safe Haven Space (SHS), to create community building sessions that support newly arriving Afghan families locally.
Once these workshops are refined, they can be used as a model for others to build from. Egette, along with several mental health professionals, have taught us that when we support refugee integration, we support refugee mental health. You can also meet Egette at our upcoming TSOS Virtual World Refugee Day event on 17 June. She’s a delight!
That brings me to celebrate those who step forward in their own unique ways to welcome refugees and shine the light of hope on the path of belonging. Volunteers who step forward in welcome, including each of our TSOS Community Programs Coordinator teams, and many individuals behind the scenes, are my heroes in that respect. I hear stories of thousands who have opened their homes, their schedules, and their wallets to give refugees a hand up. Fred Rogers taught that when tragedy hits to look for the helpers. I am fortunate in my position as Director of Community Programs to witness the collective impact of many small and simple acts of welcome. Each one of those stories keeps my faith in humanity alive.
I invite you to honor and celebrate refugees and welcomers with me this month and to meet some of these heroes. To me, the label “refugee” is a badge of honor. I cherish their friendship and trust. My hope is that their stories will inspire others to enlarge our community circles so that those who arrive are not just new neighbors, but friends.
Find a World Refugee Day event near you:Virtual and In-Person Events
Imagine being a skilled professional–a doctor even–respected in your field. And then war erupts, displacing you from your home, your family, your livelihood, your identity. When such a physician arrives in the United States, their credentials and expertise are erased and they must study for, and pass three United States Medical Licensure Exams (USMLEs), each of which involves fees and lengthy study programs. In addition, they must complete a residency program which are extremely competitive. Given the low-income, high-living expense lifestyles refugee doctors face upon arrival, these are steep barriers to overcome. TSOS is working to make these obstacles surmountable.
On June 24, 2023, TSOS had the opportunity to join with NoVA Friends of Refugees and other organizations at the One Journey Festival, a celebration of unity, diversity, and refugee contributions and talent. It was so fun.
When describing the work I do here at TSOS, I often say, we try to help people “step into each other’s stories.” Lately, I’ve been doing more of that myself.