As 2019 comes to an end, we reflect on a decade that has seen an unprecedented number of people forced to flee their homes because war, conflict and persecution. Despite these tragic circumstances, it's the stories of resilience and the resolve of refugees to create a safer future for their families that will endure.
Here are five inspiring stories that gave us hope in 2019.
Mustafa Nuur and the Bridge Collective
“When you hear a refugee’s story, it’s going to be very difficult for you to hate them.”
On World Refugee Day, we featured the story of Mustafa Nuur, a former refugee from Somalia who resettled with his family in Lancaster, PA.
In 2017, to counter the rise of negative rhetoric and to address lies and stereotypes about the refugee experience, Mustafa wrote an op-ed in a local paper. He found a great deal of support in his community, but he also received harassing messages from a guy named Mark.
Instead of arguing with Mark, Mustafa invited him for coffee. The two quickly found common ground and became friends. Mustafa left that meeting with an idea: what if more people took the time to listen to refugees’ stories? He soon developed his social enterprise, Bridge, which connects local communities with refugees through dinner party experiences. Mustafa’s story has inspired thousands of people to attend Bridge events and better understand the refugee experience.
Heather and Muzhdah
“It's very easy to help someone just by being a friend.”
At first glance, Heather and Muzhdah are an unlikely pair. While Heather was born and raised in Central Pennsylvania, Muzhdah lived in the Middle East until she and her family were forced to flee. A volunteer program brought the two together and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Heather helped Muzhdah navigate the U.S. social system, adjust to the culture and connect with their community. Muzhdah taught Heather about the refugee experience, her culture and how to cook Kurdish food. Like sisters, the two shop together, spend holidays together and their families frequently enjoy dinner together.
The Bike Collective
“This is what we do, and to see that it gives somebody hope and a new life, it's priceless.”
The Bicycle Collective is an organization in Utah that delivers bikes to communities in need, including resettled refugee families. Refugees overcome numerous challenges when they resettle in a new country — access to reliable transportation is a major one. Public transportation may not be accessible in their area, and acquiring a driver’s license and purchasing a car requires time and money many resettled families can not afford. The Bicycle Collective offers these families mobility, freedom and independence through bikes.
Families that receive bikes also have access to the Collective’s dedicated volunteers and workshops, where they can learn everything from bike maintenance to bike safety. Bicycles not only help refugees get to work and school, but also connect them with their new community.
“If we believe, we can achieve / We can be anything on Earth we want to be”
On World Children’s Day, the Pihcintu Chorus of Portland, Maine released their new song, “Somewhere.” The Pihcintu Chorus is comprised of refugee and immigrant girls from around the world. Many of these young women have escaped war, violence and persecution, and have found a new home in Portland.
In addition to singing and performing together, the chorus is also a safe space for its members to share their experiences, acclimate to the new culture and practice their language skills.
Stroopies Sweet Shop
“It really takes a village to make a welcoming place and a welcoming atmosphere for families to feel like they're safe and they're wanted and they belong.”
Stroopies Sweet Shoppe is a local business in Lancaster, PA that prides itself on its delicious treats and warm atmosphere. The shop employs resettled refugee women and helps them feel welcome in their new home.
The shop’s owner, Jennie Groff, believes in having a supportive, flexible work environment that allows former refugees to be independent while also taking care of their families. Language barriers can prevent many in the resettled community from finding gainful employment, so Stroopies offers English classes to help its employees hone their skills. As employees practice their language skills in the shop and gain promotions, they also build confidence.
What inspires you?
This year has been full of empowering and inspiring stories of refugees, but many of them would not be here without the support of generous donors. USA for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supports the full journey of refugees. With your help, more refugees like Mustafa and Muzhdah will be able to rebuild their lives and make a positive impact on their new communities.