Last month, 93 former refugees, migrants, and allies traveled from across the country to attend the LIRS 2015 Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy. This year’s Academy spearheaded several new initiatives including a Planning Committee comprised of former Academy participants, and the bridging of migrant and refugee participants. The inclusion of both migrants and former refugees allowed participants to bridge their respective immigration experiences and find strength in unity.
As a Planning Committee member and workshop facilitator, Nyamal offers a unique viewpoint of the successes of the Academy. In today’s blog post, Nyamal discusses the value in the Academy for participants and facilitators alike.
Q: Share your reflections on the Academy. What do you think were the strengths of the event?
Nyamal Tutdeal (NT): This year the Academy was unique because it was the first time that LIRS brought together migrants and refugee leaders to train and equip them with the tools needed to advocate on the issues facing both migrants and refugees. As the leaders saw in the training, migrants and refugees have more in common than different.
Q: How do you think the planning committee members’ role improved the effectiveness of the Academy?
NT: The planning committee members’ role in planning and facilitating improved the effectiveness of the Academy greatly because we had gone through the Academy last year and knew firsthand how the participants would feel. The participants this year connected with us, because in one way or another, we share a common story of being a refugee or migrant. They could relate to us and we, in turn, could understand where their questions were coming from.
Q: What was your most valuable or rewarding experience at the Academy?
NT: Seeing the increase in the number of women participants, and seeing a participant bring her 3-month-old daughter to the Academy so she could get the training to better her daughter’s future was very moving. That action of love spoke to me on a deeper level, and I still get emotional thinking about it now.
I was overcome by emotions during the ending session. One of the participants wrote a poem about being a refugee, making a change, and overcoming the obstacles you face in your journey. It’s interesting when you learn about yourself through the eyes of others.
Q: How did you grow as a leader and advocate as a planning committee member?
NT: After doing some self-reflection, I am amazed at the changes I’ve seen in myself. At the Academy in 2014, I was an eager participant ready to learn how to be a better advocate and leader in my community. I’ve now learned how to tell my story and the story of the countless refugees who came here as children and are now contributing citizens in their newfound country.
Coming back this year as a Planning Committee member and a facilitator was a humbling experience. I would say my leadership style is unconventional; I used humor to engage participants and actively listened to the participants’ stories; “He who learns teaches,” is an Ethiopian proverb. From this Academy I’ve learned to listen with not just my ears, but with my soul.
Q: What do you see as the future of the Academy?
NT: There is an African proverb that comes to mind when I think about this question: “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” LIRS has helped many migrants and refugees in their advocacy work and in creating awareness about the countless issues facing both refugees and migrants (documented and undocumented). Together we will go far, using all of our voices. Now it is not just the voices of the LIRS staff that are being heard by the elected officials, but the voices of migrant and refugee constituents as well, which is profound and inspiring for everyone involved.