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Jan 6, 2020

Update- Help Families Fleeing Crisis Rebuild Lives

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. The IRC helps vulnerable people in 40 counties and 25 cities across the U.S. Below is a story of a refugee family and the IRC’s work to support them.

When he was 16 years old, Robert started a diary. He didn’t know if he was a good writer or not; he wasn’t able to finish high school, since he couldn’t afford the fees. Regardless, Robert felt a sense of relief as he scribbled down his experiences, thoughts and feelings.

“One might say: I am a dreamer, a young bird growing its wings,” he wrote in one of his entries. “Call me whatever you please but I am young and determined to expand my horizons. I am hopeless and lose weight when I flash back to the past, but I regain when I look forward to the future.”

That entry addressed the harsh realities of growing up in a refugee camp in Uganda, where Robert would live for more than 20 years after escaping war in Democratic Republic of Congo. He also wrote about his most cherished aspirations: to establish a real home, obtain an education, and live a purposeful life.

“I am a young boy with a lot of zeal for life, a lot of life energy for happiness and with a vision,” he wrote.

At the age of 28, Robert has fulfilled some of his dreams—he now lives in America, enjoys a steady job, bought his first house, and is saving to go back to school.

‘Come faster, come—run!’

Robert was just four years old when the massacre happened. He remembers it was a Tuesday—Tuesdays were when his parents would go to market. His neighbors kept an eye on him as he kicked around a soccer ball. At one point, Robert heard loud noises. At first, he thought the sounds were some sort of alarm to warn the community of buffalos entering the town.

“But it was war,” Robert says.

The noises were gunshots. Robert saw his neighbors running. Unaware of what was happening, he ignored the chaos and continued to play—until bullets flew in front of him.

“I saw fire. The bullets were coming so close to me. I started crying. I shouted ‘Mom!’ but my mom was not around. Then my auntie, she lived close by, started calling.

“She was like, ‘My son, come.’ And I said, ‘What's going on?’ She said, ‘Come faster, come faster, come—run.’”

Robert and his aunt couldn’t run far. She was eight months pregnant, so they hid. Armed men found them, dragging Robert and his aunt into the streets.

Robert was hit repeatedly with the barrel of the gun. One of the men put his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t scream. The four-year-old was forced to watch as another man decapitated his aunt.

“Then, they beat me almost to death.”

Robert was left lying among dead bodies for several days, he later learned. An anonymous woman picked him up, wrapped a blanket around his small body, and carried him across the border to Uganda, where she handed him to the American Red Cross. He was rushed to the hospital and later, miraculously, was reunited with his parents in a refugee camp.

‘I never thought I could do this…’

Robert turns quiet after recounting his story. He folds his hands neatly on his lap; his eyes are wide and bright.

Despite the pain and trauma that he carries with him to this day, he feels that sharing his story helps him to remain resilient as he starts a new life in the United States.

Robert was resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix in 2016. He came to America with his wife, Esther, who is 25, and their children, Sandra, 5, and Agape, 4. The couple’s toddler, Raza, was born in Arizona.

The IRC helped Robert and Esther find jobs at a warehouse—Esther works morning shifts and Robert evening hours. With the IRC’s support, the couple saved money and built up credit. They enrolled in English classes and studied American culture and laws. And they managed to buy a house.

“It was really a dream,” Robert says, describing the day he received the keys to their home. “I never thought I could do this in America.”

Five-year-old Sandra plays with her little brother, Agape who is four, at a nearby park. “Sandra loves school,” Esther says. “She wakes up during the weekend and asks to go to school.”

‘We are human beings looking for hope’

When Robert reflects on how much his life has changed, he always comes back to the same realization: “Refugees can almost do anything if they are given the opportunity.” 

This is the message he gave to a group of college students at Arizona State University where recently he was invited to speak.

“I will never stop speaking about refugees, because they’re my family,” he says. “We share similar experiences. No matter where we are from. I told [the students that] refugees are people who are trying to take new steps in life...We are human beings looking for hope.”

Robert still regrets not finishing high school, and he wants to resume his studies with a focus on human rights. “I want to defend people,” he says, speaking with passion. Robert is determined to accomplish this goal, no matter how long it takes. When things get tough, he looks back at that diary entry he wrote at 16.

Jan 6, 2020

Update-Help Refugees at Risk in the U.S.

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world's worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. The IRC helps refugees and immigrants in 25 cities across the U.S. Below is a story of a refugee family and the IRC’s work to support them.

When he was 16 years old, Robert started a diary. He didn’t know if he was a good writer or not; he wasn’t able to finish high school, since he couldn’t afford the fees. Regardless, Robert felt a sense of relief as he scribbled down his experiences, thoughts and feelings.

“One might say: I am a dreamer, a young bird growing its wings,” he wrote in one of his entries. “Call me whatever you please but I am young and determined to expand my horizons. I am hopeless and lose weight when I flash back to the past, but I regain when I look forward to the future.”

That entry addressed the harsh realities of growing up in a refugee camp in Uganda, where Robert would live for more than 20 years after escaping war in Democratic Republic of Congo. He also wrote about his most cherished aspirations: to establish a real home, obtain an education, and live a purposeful life.

“I am a young boy with a lot of zeal for life, a lot of life energy for happiness and with a vision,” he wrote.

At the age of 28, Robert has fulfilled some of his dreams—he now lives in America, enjoys a steady job, bought his first house, and is saving to go back to school.

‘Come faster, come—run!’

Robert was just four years old when the massacre happened. He remembers it was a Tuesday—Tuesdays were when his parents would go to market. His neighbors kept an eye on him as he kicked around a soccer ball. At one point, Robert heard loud noises. At first, he thought the sounds were some sort of alarm to warn the community of buffalos entering the town.

“But it was war,” Robert says.

The noises were gunshots. Robert saw his neighbors running. Unaware of what was happening, he ignored the chaos and continued to play—until bullets flew in front of him.

“I saw fire. The bullets were coming so close to me. I started crying. I shouted ‘Mom!’ but my mom was not around. Then my auntie, she lived close by, started calling.

“She was like, ‘My son, come.’ And I said, ‘What's going on?’ She said, ‘Come faster, come faster, come—run.’”

Robert and his aunt couldn’t run far. She was eight months pregnant, so they hid. Armed men found them, dragging Robert and his aunt into the streets.

Robert was hit repeatedly with the barrel of the gun. One of the men put his hand over his mouth so he wouldn’t scream. The four-year-old was forced to watch as another man decapitated his aunt.

“Then, they beat me almost to death.”

Robert was left lying among dead bodies for several days, he later learned. An anonymous woman picked him up, wrapped a blanket around his small body, and carried him across the border to Uganda, where she handed him to the American Red Cross. He was rushed to the hospital and later, miraculously, was reunited with his parents in a refugee camp.

‘I never thought I could do this…’

Robert turns quiet after recounting his story. He folds his hands neatly on his lap; his eyes are wide and bright.

Despite the pain and trauma that he carries with him to this day, he feels that sharing his story helps him to remain resilient as he starts a new life in the United States.

Robert was resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix in 2016. He came to America with his wife, Esther, who is 25, and their children, Sandra, 5, and Agape, 4. The couple’s toddler, Raza, was born in Arizona.

The IRC helped Robert and Esther find jobs at a warehouse—Esther works morning shifts and Robert evening hours. With the IRC’s support, the couple saved money and built up credit. They enrolled in English classes and studied American culture and laws. And they managed to buy a house.

“It was really a dream,” Robert says, describing the day he received the keys to their home. “I never thought I could do this in America.”

Five-year-old Sandra plays with her little brother, Agape who is four, at a nearby park. “Sandra loves school,” Esther says. “She wakes up during the weekend and asks to go to school.”

‘We are human beings looking for hope’

When Robert reflects on how much his life has changed, he always comes back to the same realization: “Refugees can almost do anything if they are given the opportunity.” 

This is the message he gave to a group of college students at Arizona State University where recently he was invited to speak.

“I will never stop speaking about refugees, because they’re my family,” he says. “We share similar experiences. No matter where we are from. I told [the students that] refugees are people who are trying to take new steps in life...We are human beings looking for hope.”

Robert still regrets not finishing high school, and he wants to resume his studies with a focus on human rights. “I want to defend people,” he says, speaking with passion. Robert is determined to accomplish this goal, no matter how long it takes. When things get tough, he looks back at that diary entry he wrote at 16.

Jan 2, 2020

Update- Support Refugee Children

The IRC supports children and their families around the world and in the U.S. through all programs—and partners with likeminded organizations to deliver programs. During conflict and crisis, education protects children and sets them up for a better future. It provides a sense of hope and enables them to recover, learn and thrive. However, over 62 million children in countries affected by war and displacement remain out of school, while many others receive only a poor quality education. Despite this great need, education has received less than three percent of all humanitarian aid in recent years. Below is a story of the IRC’s work to support children in Jordan with IRC partner Sesame Workshop:

Mohammad, Hasina and their four young children* left Syria under cover of darkness in 2016. It was 3:30am. They had to hide in the bottom of a livestock truck and could hear the sounds of sheep bleating above them.

“We were very scared—at any time ISIS could have caught us,” Mohammad recalls of the journey. “There are many people that have been killed trying to escape Syria.”

Mohammad and Hasina’s youngest, Rayan, was just 45 days old when her parents were forced to flee to neighboring Jordan. Their other children—Ali, Reem and Hiba—were all below the age of seven. “My children were too young to understand what was happening, that we were escaping from death,” Mohammad recalls. “We didn’t explain, we just moved.”

When the family first arrived in Jordan they had to stay on the border in Rukban, a makeshift camp where refugees like them had limited access to aid. “[Being in] Rukban was like dying,” Hasina says.

Later they moved to Azraq refugee camp, an hour’s drive from the capital, Amman. Miles of desert surround Azraq, where thousands of white metal containers with pointed roofs sit neatly next to each other. Each container houses families like Mohammad’s, many of whom have been living there in limbo for years, unsure of what their future holds.

While the family was living in Azraq, the mental health effects of their experiences in war-torn Syria started to surface. “One day, military planes went over us in the sky, Mohammad says. “Reem got scared. From that time, she didn’t want to talk to anyone: She wanted to eat on her own, play with her toys on her own, and be by herself.”

Then the family learned about Ahlan Simsim, an early childhood development program the International Rescue Committee runs in the camp. It’s part of a larger partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street.

The name means “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic, and the program helps children recover from trauma and deal with stress. Play is a huge part of that recovery, and for Reem and her siblings, it’s been vital. “Play is like medicine for my children,” Mohammad explains. “For most children, it’s fun to play—but for my children, it’s a need.” 

Reem, Hiba and Rayan have all benefited from attending Ahlan Simsim sessions. “At the beginning they were shy and wouldn’t talk to anyone,” Radia, a volunteer at the IRC’s Azraq children’s center, explains. “Reem used to put her chair next to the door and wait there alone. It took a month, but they started to interact.”

Today the girls clap along to songs, shout answers to teachers’ questions and play with other children.

“When Reem came back from the center she started saying, ‘Hey, Mom—I have a new friend,’” Hasina says.

Now six years old, Reem is enrolled in primary school in the camp. Hiba, who’s five, and Rayan, who’s three, still regularly go to the Ahlan Simsim sessions.

The beaming and confident Hiba breaks into giggles as she’s pushed in the makeshift swing outside the family’s container home. Meeting her, you would have no idea of what she’s been through.

Beyond the emotional trauma of growing up in a war zone, she’s also coping with another serious challenge.

“Two years ago, we found out Hiba had a brain tumor,” Mohammad says. “There are no treatments for her in the camp. She’s been referred, but it takes time. It took a year and 11 months to have the scan.”

Mohammad has struggled to get treatment for his daughter while trying to make ends meet. “I’m stuck inside this camp and I cannot find work,” he says. “I had to sell everything I owned. We spent all our money getting here and paying for food.” 

Though it all, Mohammad is focused on keeping his children positive—and Ahlan Simsim remains an important part of their life in the camp. But he dreams of the day his family will no longer be refugees.

“Maybe it will take time,” he says, “but we hope we can return to Syria and start a new life.”

*The family's last name has been omitted for their safety. 

 
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