Refugees celebrate progress, hope

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 speaks to the public about her journey as a refugee and life in Knoxville. June 24, 2018. Sage Davis/TNJN

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

Highlighting our Grads: Senior selected for scholarship in Bulgaria

UT senior Avery Dobbs was chosen for the 2014-2015 Fulbright International Scholarship, where she will teach high school English in Bulgaria for a year.

“I’ve always been interested in learning about different cultures and communicating with people,” Dobbs said about wanting to teach abroad.

“My mother is an immigration attorney,” said Dobbs, “so I grew up surrounded by multi-cultural communities.” Dobbs said that she plans on going to law school, but is going to take a year off to work the program.

Dobbs said she first heard about the scholarship from a co-worker over the summer, who told her that Fulbright was the best program for teaching English.

“I applied thinking it was a long shot because it’s a big, national scholarship,” Dobbs said about the shock she experienced when she heard she was a finalist.

Dobbs joined Amnesty International and volunteered with Bridge Refugee Services when she first arrived at UT. She gained experience teaching English as a second language through her volunteer work.

She was assigned to teach a family of five who emigrated to Knoxville from Turkey. The family has two high school aged kids that Dobbs met with twice a week to help with homework.

Dobbs said that she received the most help from the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships (ONSAF). “I started meeting with directors of the program in Aug.,” said Dobbs, “and they told me what I needed to do for the application, and helped me come up with ideas for my application essay.”

She will depart for Bulgaria in Sept. and attend a two-week orientation before the academic year begins. “My main goal aside from teaching,” said Dobbs, “is I want to learn the language, and I want to explore as much as I can, go around the country, and learn as much as I can about Bulgaria.”

Students interested in scholarships for teaching abroad should contact ONSAF. “Their purpose is to help students find scholarships,” said Dobbs, “and there is always someone to go talk to and to get advice.”


Edited by Nichole Stevens