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Refugee Stories

Celebrating the love, ambition and courage of refugee mothers

This Mother’s Day, we are celebrating the love, ambition and courage of refugee and forcibly displaced mothers around the world who continue to strive for a better life for their children and themselves despite incredible challenges. Take a moment and meet two strong and inspiring women we are celebrating this Mother’s Day.

Intisar

smiling mother holding child

Outside the Bunj Secondary School in South Sudan, Intisar, a Sudanese refugee, wears a big smile while holding her newborn. She’s waiting to take her senior qualifying exams and her sister joins to watch the baby when it’s test time – a passing grade ensures Intisar can go to college.

The joy shared on this day belies a tragic and painful past the sisters overcame together. Four years ago, Intisar and her younger sister were forced to flee their village in Sudan when deadly violence broke out. For days they walked across dangerous terrain without food, shelter or water. They finally found safety at the Kaya refugee camp in South Sudan -- the first thing Intisar did was enroll in school.

Intisar completed an accelerated program that compressed six years of South Sudan’s primary and secondary education into three years. This program responds to older learners like Intisar who missed years of their education due to war and conflict. The program is giving a young mother like Intisar a chance to keep pursuing her dreams.

“I want to study English first then go to medical school to be a pediatrician,” Intisar shares.

Intisar might be a new mom, but she’s been a caretaker and an inspiration for her younger sister her whole life. “I want to follow her path,” Intisar’s sister beams proudly.

She hasn’t decided on her baby’s name yet, but it’s likely to be an homage to her love of education. Intisar shares that she is considering naming the baby Najib which means ‘intelligent’ in Arabic.

Elizabeth

mother and daughters baking together

With her daughters surrounding her, Elizabeth proudly displays bread that is ready for the oven. The family operates a small bakery out of their home in a town outside of Panama City. Even amid the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty of running a small business during lockdowns and quarantines, Elizabeth is grateful for the safety and health of her daughters.

In June 2018, Elizabeth experienced something no mother should ever have to -- her oldest daughter Eliz, then a college student, was kidnapped when protests and violence broke out in the Nicaragua. Thankfully, Eliz was released, but Elizabeth wasted no time in fleeing Nicaragua. She gathered her other daughter Hilda, and what little they could carry and fled to Panama.

The journey was perilous. Elizabeth feared for the safety of herself and her daughters. The family walked for two days before arriving at the Costa Rican border. In Nicaragua, they avoided main roads for fear of being kidnapped or abused. When they arrived to Costa Rica they were able to continue their journey by bus. They were safe, but the future was uncertain. They began to rebuild their lives in a small town on the outskirts of Panama City.

With support from the UN Refugee Agency and the Red Cross, Elizabeth was able to secure the means to begin a small business baking and selling bread. After about a year, she had built a prosperous enterprise.

“Now the neighbors order bread from me on WhatsApp and pick it up when it's ready," she shares. “They come just to smell the bread!”

The family business continues to grow. “We make 15 pounds of bread a day, that's about 24 flutes and 12 bags of ball bread. We also make sweet cheese bread and people can't live without that anymore. And we make pizza and donuts,” says Elizabeth brimming with pride.

How you can help… 

Like all mothers, refugee mothers like Intisar and Elizabeth want to keep their children safe and happy. Consider celebrating Mother’s Day by making sure more courageous women can rebuild their families' lives. Your monthly gifts will provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care — and hope. Please join your fellow caring Americans and become a monthly donor — you can help turn these families’ uncertainties into hope. 

May 5 2021
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