In June, LSG staff member and former refugee Aimee Zangandou joined 51 other participants at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service‘s World Refugee Day Academy. The World Refugee Day Academy is a three-day leadership training and advocacy event for current and former refugees. The participants came from 27 states and represented 18 different nationalities. All together, they did 117 visits to Capitol Hill legislators to advocate on behalf of refugees. They were also honored as special guests during the Walk of Courage Award Gala as LIRS celebrated its 75th anniversary of walking with over 500,000 migrants and refugees to brighter tomorrows. Below, Aimee reflects on her experience.
That’s the word I would use to describe my trip to Washington, D.C. to celebrate World Refugee Day. Throughout the trip, I felt that my voice was heard. On June 19, my day began with visits to legislators on Capitol Hill. I visited the offices of Senator Saxby Chambliss and Representative Tom Price. I was also granted a visit to the White House to meet with the Senior Policy Advisor–Domestic Policy Council and the Director of Human Rights–National Security Staff.
During those visits, I simply told my story. I told them how my family was resettled in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I told them how happy I was to sit in a classroom after being out of school for nearly three years. I told them how hard my parents worked to save enough money for a down payment on their first home, which they made only one year after our arrival in the United States. I told them how my parents were on food stamps for only a very short period of time until they started their first jobs and how they have never been on food stamps again. I shared with them that 80% of refugees resettled in Georgia are able to find work and become financially self-sufficient within 180 days after their arrival. I told them that refugees are an asset to this beautiful country.
As I spoke, I was not only telling my story but the stories of thousands of other refugees who now call the United States their home. Before leaving their offices, I asked them for three things. 1) Invest. Ensure that there are robust resources to support the U.S. refugee resettlement program. 2) Protect. Reject proposals that would harm refugees. 3) Champion. Support refugee reform legislation. Everyone that I met listened to me and I felt that my voice and the voice of others refugees was heard. I felt that the voices of refugees stuck in refugee camps waiting for resettlement were also heard.