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May 14, 2024

Sparking Change Grantees Gather at the Welcoming Interactive in Dallas, TX

Last December, USA for UNHCR, Refugee Congress and Welcoming America selected ten refugee leaders from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas as the inaugural cohort for Sparking Change, a grant program that invests in individuals who have been forcibly displaced and are now leading community-based solutions in the US.

Sparking Change grantees gather at Welcoming Interactive

Sparking Change grantees and Advisory Council (back row: Sara Louis-Ayo, Bahati Kanyamanza, Salemu Alimasi, King Saah, Faridar Sirazulsalam, Masouda Basharat, Dauda Sesay, Shamaril Amiri; front row: Aisha Koroma, Niyonsaba Magnifique, Sharon Njie, Jessi Calzado Esponda, Sateza Safi, Emma Yaaka)

In addition to financial support (up to $12,500), USA for UNHCR partnered with Welcoming America to bring together the Sparking Change grantees at the Welcoming Interactive in Dallas, Texas, a conference that highlights best practices of immigrant inclusion and community support.

Nicole Smith, who spearheads the Sparking Change program at USA for UNHCR, reflected on the inaugural convening of the grantees.

“After reading their applications, I knew that we had an outstanding group of refugee leaders, but I was blown away by their ability to create community in such a short period. During one of the workshop sessions where we were discussing narrative around refugees, there was a really powerful moment where the Advisory Council members were able to share their lived experience as community leaders to offer advice to the emerging Sparking Change leaders. This moment reiterated the point that these leaders know what to do, and they simply need someone to support them.”

Sparking Change grantees in workshop

Sparking Change Advisory Council Member, Shamaril Amiri (left), and Sparking Change grantees Faridar Sirazulsalam (middle) and King Saah (right). 

At the workshop, the grantees also practiced how to pitch their projects to garner additional support. Many of the Sparking Change grantees then utilized these skills for further networking at the Welcoming Interactive over the next two days.

As part of supporting new refugee leaders, the Sparking Change grantees have support from a group of Refugee Congress delegates known as the Sparking Change Advisory Council. These four individuals are currently leading in their respective communities and serve as a resource for the inaugural cohort in project execution.

Emma Yaaka, from Chicago, Illinois is on the Advisory Council and shared his thoughts:

“I’m very excited. And I told them, you know what — whatever you are going to do, it will determine how we can look at this in your future because this should be our stepping stone to open more opportunities for more refugees who are doing similar work.”

Sign up for updates on what’s next with the Sparking Change program, including program opportunities for 2025.

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