Dana is a featured participant from USA for UNHCR’s Refugee Youth Storyteller’s Celebration, an opportunity to honor and recognize the creative voices of former refugees under the age of 30 who are now living in the United States.
“Darkness can’t drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate can’t drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspires Dana Aljubouri every day. At just 12 years old, she is an artist, poet and a vocal advocate for refugees in Florida.
Dana’s family fled Iraq the year after she was born. Her father worked for an American company where he wanted to become a bridge between American and Iraqi citizens. However, his involvement with an American company during the war led to death threats against him and his entire family.
Artwork created by Dana Aljubouri and her sister, Rodina.
When Dana’s family arrived in the United States in 2010, they resettled in Florida and eventually put down roots in Jacksonville. Her mother built bonds with Florida’s refugee and interfaith communities, and eventually became the Florida delegate for Refugee Congress and an organizer for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
While her mother was finding ways to create community and connection in Jacksonville, Dana found she was often isolated from other students at her school. She stood apart from the crowd. Aside from her two Arabic classmates, Dana was not understood by the rest of her peers. They did not understand her family’s traditions, her prayers or her language. Eventually, Dana asked her mother to stop packing her favorite traditional meals for lunch because students in her school would call it disgusting.
Despite this, Dana is following in her mother’s footsteps and approaching others with respect, kindness and compassion. She notes an experience she had with her mother when she was in the fourth grade:
“I was with my mom going shopping and a man came and asked us in a not nice way, ‘Why are you wearing that on your head? Go back to your country.’ My mom said to him that this is our country too and she asked him to sit and talk. She explained to him why she looks like that, and why she wears the Hijab. That man felt so bad that he talked to us like that and he apologized to us. I was so proud of her because she responded to that man in a nice way.”
Now, Dana is the youngest refugee activist in Florida. When she was 10-years-old, she began traveling to Florida’s capitol building in Tallahassee to share her journey with legislators and help them learn about the experiences of refugees. The lack of understanding and education about refugees in her own school only inspires Dana to continue sharing her art and story to reach people from all backgrounds.
“So my job now is to keep working and helping others and to keep Dr. Martin Luther King’s wise words in my life.”
Dana’s story is just one voice from the Refugee Youth Storyteller’s Celebration we are sharing in recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20.