On June 18th, 49 former refugee leaders arrived in Baltimore to take part in World Refugee Day Academy. The participants were selected through a highly competitive process for their leadership experience, strong ties to their local communities, and passion to mobilize for pro-refugee policies. The Academy was created to offer former refugees a networking space to exchange ideas, become familiar with the LIRS mission, hone leadership skills, and eventually take the experience back to their communities and advocate boldly for refugee and asylee rights. They arrived from 28 states and represented 16 countries of origin. Over three days, they formed a cohort of inspiring and vocal advocates for LIRS and refugees across the country.
Erin Phelps, LIRS Grassroots Mobilization Intern, recounts the successful Academy:
Day One of the Academy included a welcome by LIRS President and CEO, Linda Hartke, who discussed the organization’s 75 year commitment to walking alongside migrants and refugees and outlined the goals of the Academy. This was followed by legislative advocacy training, where participants learned about issues and key asks for their Hill visits. They engaged in role-plays as they prepared to share their stories and engage with Members of Congress over policy issues regarding refugee resettlement.
Day Two began with an early morning bus to Washington, DC. Anne Richard, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Migration, and Refugees and UNHCR Regional Representative Shelly Pitterman spoke to the participants before they headed to Capitol Hill. During 114 visits, including meetings with the White House and State Department, Academy participants, LIRS Board members, and staff raised their voices in support of pro-refugee legislation. Participants spoke poignantly about the importance of the U.S. refugee resettlement program in their own life, and boldly asked Members of Congress to take action on issues affecting refugees and receiving communities. After a successful day on the Hill, participants attended the LIRS Walk of Courage Award Gala as honored guests, and ended the night by taking to the dance floor!
On Day Three, participants spent the morning immersed in community organizing and leadership training led by facilitators Omar Bah and Wilmot Collins. Many participants contributed their own expertise from working in refugee resettlement, social services, and local government. In the afternoon, participants broke into Regional Teams to discuss specific priorities and plans. They began to create Strategic Action Plans, which will guide their efforts in promoting pro-refugee policies throughout the coming year.
Nyamal Tutdeal, a former South Sudanese refugee from Nebraska wrote to LIRS about her own experience:
I was born in Gambela, Ethiopia to South Sudanese parents. My family was resettled in the United States on February 16, 1996 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the coldest winter ever recorded in South Dakota. I currently reside in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I am finishing a Human Relations degree from Doane College and working with the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska as their Project Venture Coordinator.
World Refugee Day Academy and the 75th Anniversary of LIRS has been incredible! We were given the opportunity to advocate for the refugees in the diaspora, and LIRS fostered opportunities for us to develop as leaders and become empowered as strong advocates for issues concerning refugee and migrant communities. Each day of the World Refugee Day Academy was a highlight in its own way. My experience started in Denver when I met with other participants during my connection flight to Baltimore. The whole day on Thursday was nothing but highlights, from the Congressional visits to the Walk of Courage Gala in the evening. I really enjoyed lobbying on the Hill, meeting with my elected officials, telling my story and the stories of many other voiceless refugees, and asking them to invest, protect, and champion. There are so many refugees who are still looking for a place to call home and feel safe. I am looking forward to getting back into my community and educating my community with the issues that are facing refugees and migrants. World Refugee Day Academy has truly been life-changing for me. Thank you to LIRS for granting me the opportunity, not only to advocate for me but also for other young women who have been forced out of their countries and live as refugees.
World Refugee Day Academy is a key part of LIRS’s ongoing commitment to connecting with, empowering, and supporting former refugees. LIRS is grateful for the participation of Academy members like Nyamal, as they courageously share their stories, speak out for the rights and needs of refugees, and develop as leaders. We invite you to share your own refugee story with us here.