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The light at the end of the tunnel

Shewa Shwani By Shewa Shwani Published on May 28, 2016

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What is a refugee?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a refugee is “someone who has been forced to leave a country because of war or for religious reasons.”

This definition, however, does not fully express the journey that a refugee undergoes to arrive at their destination. A refugee is also a doctor, an engineer, or a business owner who sacrificed everything they owned to move to a safer place in which to live. A refugee is also a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, grandmother, or grandfather who has left their family behind in their homeland in order to go to a new, different, and sometimes a very foreign place. It is a place where they must learn a new language, a completely different culture, but in an environment that will be safe although it is much colder and quieter!

My journey as a refugee began nineteen years ago when Kurds were being persecuted. At the time, it was just the three of us: my mother, father, and I- just one-years old. We had to leave all our belongings and family. My father was affiliated with a western company, which put us at high risk due to the non-tolerance of the dictatorial regime. With the help of Bill Clinton, the president of the United States during that period, we were evacuated with about 2,000 other Kurds. We were taken to Guam until all the necessary paperwork was done to bring us to our final destination in the U.S.

Now, nineteen years later, I am a proud American citizen. Living in the U.S does have its ups and downs. I rarely get to see my extended family back home although we try our best to visit every five years. My extended family was not here for any of my milestones! They did not see me take my first steps, when I lost my baby teeth, the birth of my siblings, or to celebrate my sweet sixteen. They weren’t there to cheer me on as I crossed the stage at my high school graduation ceremony and won’t be present at my college graduation ceremony in a few years. They have missed out on some of the most important stepping-stones for an American girl.

The area that I live in isn’t home to many Kurds, which makes it hard to connect with others who share my ethnic background. Living in the U.S does have its benefits. First and foremost, the U.S is a safe haven for all. It affords a better education system for grades K through 12 and provides a safety net such as social security, public assistance, and healthcare for the financially insecure. The U.S is the land of opportunities where dreams can become reality. I’ve had the opportunity to teach many students and people about my Kurdish heritage, thus dispelling misconceptions of what it means to be a Muslim woman in the U.S.

Being a Muslim woman who lives in the U.S is especially hard since the media portrays Muslims negatively. Deciding to wear the “hijab,” the veil that some Muslim women wear, was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Before my commitment, I was unsure how friends and individuals I worked with would react. I was primarily nervous by the looks strangers would give me once I would start wearing it. When I decided to wear the hijab two years ago, the outcome was surprising. I received more positive than negative results. I believe that wearing the hijab has grown me into a more confident woman.

I am dearly blessed for attending SUNY ESF because despite the fact that I am the only hijabi student in the entire college, I receive an abundance of respect from students and faculty. They have helped me branch out and do presentations about Muslims and my Kurdish heritage. The college has also helped me find my passion for community service and encouraged taking a leadership role in the ESF/SU Food Recovery Network organization where we take perfectly untouched leftover dining hall food to homeless shelters, transitional housing, guest homes, and refugee programs. It is an honor and privilege for me to help the Syracuse community.

In conclusion, refugees are ordinary people, just like you and me. The only thing distinguishing us is that refugees face unimaginable conditions. A matter of life or death. They go through dangerous journeys to leave their unstable “home” and arrive in a new secure one. Some have lost many family members before the resettlement and others have absolutely no family left. The perseverance and the strength that refugees display even after persecution cannot be described fully in words. World Refugee Day is a day where we forget our dark pasts and celebrate our arrivals at the bright end of the tunnel.

Author, Helping homeless in the community, college student, Bollywood lover, fashionista.

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