Finding Refuge: Stories of Resilience and Action

by Jonathan Meier

Today is World Refugee Day, an opportunity to reflect upon our global responsibility to those escaping persecution, war, or violence. There are nearly 22.5 million refugees across the globe, half of whom are under the age of 18. Without the protection of refugees, people like Albert Einstein, Sergey Brin, Madeline Albright, and so many more could not have changed the world with all their talents. Everyone deserves a chance; here are just a few refugees who were given an opportunity to start life anew and found success

Jacob Mach: Police Officer

Jacob Mach was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of almost 20,000 boys displaced or orphaned by the Sudanese Civil War that lasted from 1983 to 2005. In a 2013 interview with the New York Times, he recounted the struggles he faced in the pursuit of safety, trekking barefoot for miles, eating leaves to survive, and watching his friends drink their own urine. In 2001, Mach was granted refugee status by the United States and resettled to the town of Clarkston, Georgia.

His struggles didn’t stop there however. He was only guaranteed government support for three months and despite being thousands of miles away from the conflict, he still had to face another kind of struggle: integrating immediately into a foreign culture and language. For a time, Mach worked jobs that paid only a few dollars an hour, unpacking produce at a grocery store or working the nightshift at a hotel. By carefully saving his money, he was able to bring his wife over from Kenya, gain American citizenship and receive a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgia State University. In 2012, Mach began training as a police officer and although failing to pass his first time, Mach was finally sworn in as an Atlanta Police Officer in 2017.

Sayah Bogor: Health Research Analyst

Sayah Bogor arrived in Arizona from Somalia when she was seven years old. Although just a child, she had already lived through more strife in her native country than most adults would ever experience. Somalia was in the midst of a civil war in the 1990’s, forcing Sayah, her younger brother and mother to flee to Nairobi, Kenya and resettle in one of the refugee camps set up by the government. While the camp offered escape from the war, they were understaffed and overfilled. Conditions were unsanitary which left Sayah’s mother constantly ill. Sayah became the sole provider, collecting food thrown out by restaurants and protecting her family from dangers within the camp.

After two long years, her father, who was already in the states with her two older brothers finally found them after searching the family registries for the refugee camps and brought them to the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. Sayah faced numerous challenges, from being “the only kid with dark skin in elementary school,” to lacking a green card that would enable a fresh start in college that she desperately sought. However, she overcame all of this adversity by graduating with a bachelor of science from Arizona State University, and even met Shane, her fiance, along the way. Now, she’s about to complete her master’s degree in Public Health at UC Berkeley, focusing on infectious diseases like the ones that were rampant in the refugee camps. She has her eyes on both citizenship and working at a non-profit in the near future.

Diego: Mechanical Engineering Student

Diego and his family fled Colombia to escape the armed conflict that has perpetuated there for over 50 years. When they arrived in Venezuela, Diego didn’t have the proper documentation to enroll in school. With the help of Jesuit Refugee Services, however, he was finally able to attend school at 15, and graduated second in his class three years later. While beginning college at the Experimental University of Táchira (UNET), Diego once again had to face issues concerning his identification papers but was given an exception due to his interest in pursuing mechanical engineering as a major.

When he first arrived in the country, it was working with his father in a bike shop that jumpstarted his interest in mechanical engineering. His personal experiences have led him to become one of the top students at UNET. After one year of attending UNET, he even received a scholarship based on academic merit. Now, Diego hopes to become a naturalized citizen to receive his diploma and begin serving his adopted country as an engineer.

Safety is not a privilege, but a right natural to all people, regardless of citizenship. Too many people around the world are deprived of this right each and every day. Jacob, Sayah, and Diego are just a few of the refugee success stories that happen everyday, but there can still be so many more if we provide our support to those who’ve been displaced by injustices. Sign the petition today to express your solidarity with refugees.

About the Author: Jonathan Meier is a student at Bucknell University with a passion for public service and the environment. He currently works at Friendship Ambassadors Foundation as a Communications and Media Intern for the Youth Assembly.

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