While immigration battles continue on Capitol Hill, the Knoxville community came together to celebrate World Refugee Day (internationally celebrated June 20) at Bridge Refugee Services, an organization driven to help refugees settle and succeed in the Knoxville and Chattanooga areas.
For a refugee, motivation for moving to the U.S. does not revolve around a more comfortable lifestyle, but the prospect of asylum. Refugees flee their native countries because of fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality or affiliation with a certain social group. Bridge helps refugees by securing jobs, housing and education opportunities.
Saturday evening, Bridge clients told stories about their journeys to America and described changes in their lives.
Client Eliza Manizabayo, a Congolese refugee, settled in Knoxville in 2016 after living in the Uganda Refugee Camp.
“There are some challenges where you do not know anything or anybody, and you feel like you’re so lonely, but these days we have churches that support refugees,” Manizabayo said.
Manizabayo shared her story and her love for America, where she finds many opportunities previously unavailable to her in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“It’s where every refugee wants to go,” she said of America. “It’s everyone’s dream in the refugee camp.”
Bridge makes every effort to put clients at ease as soon as they step into McGhee Tyson airport.
“They [church members] help repair the apartment and they go to the airport to welcome them,” Manizabayo said. She also said Bridge directed her to many opportunities to help further her education and learn English.
World Refugee Day allows Manizabayo time to feel happy and forgive her past, days darkened by harsh and violent conditions in her native country. Such conditions included sexual assault, murder and torture by armed groups.
“Sometimes when we tell our stories, it makes us remember the past, but also gives us that feeling of, ‘Yes, I suffered, but now I’m okay.’”
Bridge Refugee Services planned events in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Maryville to celebrate World Refugee Day. In Knoxville, WATE’s John Dare served as emcee to facilitate transitions between speakers.
Zainab Ahmed came to Knoxville three years ago. A refugee from Iraq, Ahmed now looks to start her own jewelry business. She currently takes classes in marketing and business to help expand her jewelry brand.
“They [Bridge] encouraged me to do this,” Ahmed said. When Bridge plans events, workers help Ahmed market her jewelry by inviting her to set up a booth.
“They are helping me by connecting me to businessmen and commercial agencies to take classes with them to help me market.”
Drocella Mugorewera, executive director of Bridge, was a client when she first arrived in the U.S in 2009. For Mugorewera, World Refugee Day not only prompts remembrance of the refugees’ struggles worldwide, but also of their achievements.
“We’re celebrating their achievements, resilience and contribution to the community,” she said. “We’re also celebrating the welcoming communities.”
“Refugees cannot thrive without the supporting communities.”
Images by Sage Davis
Edited by Lexie Little