Refugees Have Powerful Stories to Tell

By Dan Stone / Jun 20, 2017

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More than ever before, the world has its eye on refugees. Between travel bans heard round the world and photos of families fleeing war-torn countries splashed across the news, the public is taking notice.

300 2016 Refugeeday

Today is World Refugee Day—a chance for all of us to engage even further in this worthy cause. According to the UN Refugee Agency, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes. More than 21 million of these are refugees, half of whom are under the age of 18. 

Giving refugees a voice

Here at Oliver Russell, we care about refugees. We want them to find happiness and peace in our country. We believe they should have a platform to tell their stories. That’s why we recently invited refugee ZuZu Kamel from Mosul, Iraq to speak to our clients and friends during a lunch hour presentation.

At just seven years old, ZuZu saw someone killed right in front of her home. She remembers Saddam Hussein being in power and American soldiers arriving in Iraq. She has vivid memories of soldiers giving children toys and candy.  

Over the years she saw many unspeakable things in her home country, but her real trouble began when she turned 16. Her family was targeted because her father worked in a hospital translating for wounded American soldiers who couldn’t communicate with Arabic doctors. Her father moved them countless times to escape persecution.

After her grandfather’s home (where she was living) was sprayed with bullets and the family endured a horrific car accident, they left for the U.S., eventually landing in Boise. Although they desperately missed family and friends, they were grateful for the chance to start over. 

Zuzu 3

Life lessons from a refugee

During her presentation, ZuZu shared these key insights with us:

  • Being a refugee isn’t easy – A refugee’s journey is long and often filled with danger and sorrow. Imagine being forced from your home and having to leave everything you know and love. Even now that ZuZu is safe in the U.S., she still often wakes up to news that a family member or friend in Iraq has been killed by ISIS. One day she woke up to learn that ISIS had destroyed the home where she grew up.
  • Be tolerant of differences – As a Muslim living in the U.S., ZuZu has faced discrimination. People sometimes make comments about the hijab covering her head, and she feels her appearance makes her less employable. One employer bluntly said he couldn’t hire her because of the hijab. In addition, ZuZu has been called “ISIS” while walking to school (she’s a student at Boise State).
  • Refugees deserve our respect – Most refugees are educated. Just because they can’t speak English or speak broken English doesn’t mean they are less smart. They want to be successful. They want to contribute to the communities in which they live.
  • Be flexible about the future – Growing up in an unstable country taught ZuZu to be resilient. She says that although we can make plans for tomorrow, forces outside of our control sometimes require us to chart a new course. What’s important is that we don’t lose hope and keep moving forward.

Idaho opens its arms

Here in Idaho we’ve welcomed refugees since 1975, when Governor John Evans created the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program in response to a surge of refugees who were fleeing the overthrow of U.S.-supported governments in Southeast Asia. In the beginning resettlement efforts focused on refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, but soon expanded to include Eastern European refugees escaping oppressive Soviet regimes.

In the ‘90s Idaho resettled more than 5,000 refugees, more than half of whom were from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Civil war and ethnic cleansing forced them from their homeland. Today the state mostly resettles refugees from Iraq, Congo, Burma, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Somalia. 

Host refugees at your next event

Why not invite a refugee to speak at your next event? If you live in Boise, you can contact the Refugee Speakers Bureau organized through the Idaho Office for Refugees. You could even invite ZuZu—she’s part of the speakers bureau. Learn more here

Thumbnails People Dan Stone

Dan Stone

Dan is an award-winning senior copywriter with more than 13 years of experience. He’s worked for agencies and companies in Idaho, Illinois and Washington, D.C. Dan’s clients have included the Smithsonian Institution, Comcast, Department of Defense and Virginia Tourism Corporation. He also uses his writing for good, whether recruiting others to help refugees locally or protect animals in Africa. You can usually find Dan pounding away at his keyboard, hunting for big ideas and causes to support.

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