In 2021, we witnessed compassion, resilience and hope in the face of remarkable challenges. This year, resettled refugees and stateless individuals showed us the power of using their own voices to build more understanding, accepting and generous communities. From founding organizations to uplift displaced people to pursuing careers that protect and empower others, here are just a few of the stories from 2021 that inspired us.
At the beginning of 2021, we welcomed Biar Atem as the newest member of USA for UNHCR’s board of directors. Biar was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan and was forced to flee South Sudan as a child when civil war broke out. He lived in refugee camps for more than 10 years before he was resettled in the United States.
In the U.S., Biar prioritized his education and worked his way through school as a janitor in a Las Vegas casino. Eventually, he graduated with an accounting degree and an MBA, and he’s now a successful businessman. He currently owns and operates a real estate business, is the co-founder of a tax and business advisory firm and is working at a Fortune 500 company as a contract audit manager.
On top of his career accomplishments, he makes time to help others who are facing the same situations that he once did. He founded the South Sudan Center of America, a nonprofit that assists refugees, along with his service on USA for UNHCR’s board of directors.
“As a refugee, people look up to me, and I take it upon myself to be the voice for the 80 million people that are displaced and looking for a home.”
This year, we launched the Refugee Youth Storyteller’s Celebration — an opportunity to highlight young refugee voices and offer a platform for their stories. Our featured storyteller from the celebration was Abdallah Obaidi, a resettled refugee from Iraq. He and his family were forced to flee when Abdallah’s elementary school classroom was bombed, and he spent most of his adolescence as a refugee in Jordan.
After being resettled in the United States, Abdallah taught himself English to stay ahead in his education, and he began pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor. He started volunteering as a medical interpreter at a clinic, which is where he first realized how his voice could uplift others.
“My hope for the future is to become a doctor and care for my patients, but I also want to be part of a movement that creates a system where no one feels left behind.”
Abdallah worked as an EMT in Atlanta throughout the pandemic and is now a medical student at Tufts University, continuing on his path to become a medical professional who protects and empowers his patients.
Another inspiring young storyteller we met this year was Bijaya Khadka. He grew up in a refugee camp in Nepal after his family was forced to flee Bhutan. He lived there for most of his adolescence before resettling in Rochester, New York. Most of his young life, Bijaya felt helpless and stranded as a refugee. In the United States, he discovered his voice and found a way to use his experiences to reach others.
“The United States extended her hands and lifted me up from the grounds of helplessness. I have been given real hope and have stopped imagining the past. Instead, I can focus on a brighter future.”
Bijaya’s goal is to ensure that others don’t feel the same sense of hopelessness and isolation that he did. He is the founder of House of Refuge, an organization that helps resettled refugees find job opportunities, learn English and navigate their new communities, as well as a Placement Coordinator for the Rochester Rehabilitation Center. His hope is not only to help other resettled refugees, but also to support people from all walks of life in his community.
In addition to uplifting voices, 2021 was also a year for stepping out of the shadows. With recent commitment from the U.S. government to identify and protect stateless individuals within the country, it’s become more important than ever to highlight the voices of stateless individuals. This year, we met Daiana, a stateless Harvard student who is working with the nonprofit United Stateless to share her experience and bring attention to the challenges that stateless people face.
Due to complications of being born in a country without birthright citizenship, Daiana has lived her whole life without citizenship in any country. She grew up in the United States without knowing her stateless status, and it wasn’t until she was in high school that she learned she was undocumented.
“The United States became the only country I truly knew, and I began to fear a life where I could no longer live here. In every sense but the paperwork, I felt like an American citizen.”
Everything from getting a driver’s license to going to college is a challenge when you’re stateless. Daiana overcame many of these obstacles, but there are still more to come as she applies for law school. Her goal is to become a judge so she can help create fundamental change for stateless people.
Alaa and Lujein Alkaridi
Alaa and Lujein Alkaridi have lived all over the world, but after being forced to flee Syria in 2012, nowhere else felt like home until they were resettled in Vancouver, Washington. There, they set down roots to raise their two daughters, Leen and Ritta.
Like many families, the pandemic brought many challenges to their lives. Although they were able to secure their finances and housing within the first few months, they went into lockdown less than a year after their resettlement. Alaa and Lujein consider themselves lucky, but they know others in their situation haven’t been as fortunate.
“Refugees are human, like [everyone. We] have our families, we have our ambitions, we have our dreams… we are looking for safety, like everyone. We are looking to have social connection with our neighbors. We want to move forward with our families.”
Both Alaa and Lujein work in their communities to support other resettled refugees — Alaa helps families through the complexities of resettlement, and Lujein works as a peer support specialist to help resettled refugees face the mental and emotional challenges of being in a new country.
How to turn your inspiration into action…
The refugee and stateless voices we’ve heard this year have shown us that just one story can make a difference in the lives of many. If you’ve been inspired by these stories, then turn your inspiration into action by becoming USA for UNHCR’s newest monthly donor. Your commitment to helping displaced people around the world will make a life-changing impact on their journeys to safety.