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World Refugee Day 2013: Standing up with Refugee Women and Girls

Nairi Bandari

Country of Origin:
Current State/City: Glendale, CA
Resettled in the United States: 2012

Nairi Bandari was born and raised in Iran. As a religious minority, she faced discrimination and was denied employment in her home country. As a result, she made her final decision: she was ready for a new life and challenge; she decided to move to a free country where she could follow her dream. Sponsored by a relative in Glendale, CA and admitted to the refugee program in 2010, Naira arrived in USA in November 2012.

Nairi speaks Armenian, Farsi, and had some English language education prior to her arrival. She was resettled by USCRI’s affiliate office, International Institute of Los Angeles (IILA). Shortly after, she began a part-time job at a supermarket and with the assistance of an IILA job developer, obtained an office job at a local social services agency. Nairi’s determination to succeed and the support and assistance she received from the local community helped her become self-sufficient in less than two months after arrival to the United States. She plans to go to college and pursue her bachelor’s degree. She is very thankful to have the opportunity to live and work in a free country.

Inprany Sapangtong

Country of Origin: Laos
City/State: Kapolei, HI
Year of resettlement: 1981

Inprany Sapangtong was born and raised in Laos. Communism took over in the 70’s and the entire country was struck with overwhelming poverty. Her father was a successful pilot but passed away when she was a child. Her mother—who worked full time as a French teacher—raised Inprany and her siblings alone. After a year of living in a refugee camp,  an uncle in Hawaii sponsored the family to relocate from Laos to Hawaii.

Once she arrived in Hawaii, her family was placed in housing and put under a rigorous schedule of practicing English by their uncle.  The first year was the hardest to adjust, but once they overcame the language barrier, Inprany and her family began to reach for higher goals. After learning the language and customs, the family moved from Hawaii to Kansas since there were more job opportunities for Inprany’s mother and step-father.

In Kansas, Inprany first worked for a refugee resettlement agency as a case manager. After getting settled in Kansas and with the encouragement of her new husband, started her own small business, an Asian grocery store in a small Midwest town. She worked full time as a case manager for refugees while her business slowly started to grow. She took advantage of her American opportunities and attended college classes during that time too. While never finishing with a degree, her store was incredibly successful. She put her two girls through college. Inprany agreed on trying out the restaurant business with her younger brother and it became successful enough to pay for her family to relocate back to Hawaii. There are now three Thai Villages across the island with plans to expand.


Asmaa Mohammed Hassan

Country of Origin: Iraq
Current State/city: Farmington Hills, Michigan
Year of resettlement:  2008

"I was born in the city of Baghdad, Iraq in 1975. I studied and graduated from the Al-Mastansariya University in Baghdad with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences. Iraq is dangerous—especially for women. During the war, I lived in constant fear for my life. My husband and I fled Iraq and lived in Amman, Jordan for three years. 

"I have two children, one son who is six and one daughter who is almost two years old. My family and I came to the United States and were helped by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants’ Detroit field office. Three months after my arrival, I was fortunate to have a found a job with my degree that I obtained in Iraq. During that time, I was able to evaluate my degree to the transferable credits required. From that point, I felt like I was able to start my new life in America. Progress is also going well for my family; my son is registered in school. My husband is currently employed. We are both working together in managing our finances and paying our bills. With this teamwork, we were able to afford and buy a good home for our family. Now, we have applied for citizenship in the U.S. and are currently waiting on an appointment date so we can finally become American Citizens."



Country of Origin: Rwanda
Current State/City: Manchester, New Hampshire
Year of Resettlement: 1999

Fortunee grew up in a large, happy family in Rwanda with a Tutsi mother, a Hutu father, and seven siblings. She was at graduate school in Senegal studying agronomy and forestry when she began to hear terrifying stories of conflict at home in Rwanda.

Two of her brothers were victims of the genocide in 1994. In the aftermath of the genocide, Fortunee lost three more siblings and her father to the appalling conditions in refugee camps and to the continuing violence they faced both as refugees in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on their return to Rwanda. Five years after the genocide and the loss of most of her family, Fortunee received the news that she would be coming to the United States as a refugee.

In 1999, Fortunee moved to Texas. When she first arrived, her English was not perfect, but she was fluent in French, Swahili, and Kinyarwanda. She moved to New Hampshire and loved it from the start, describing how she moved in order “to see hills and forests and make me remember Rwanda in a good way.” She began working with the International Institute of New England’s Common Earth Farms project in 2009, first as a translator, then eventually as a farmer. She says, “It is good to go back to what I know, to see the plants change every day—it gives me hope.”

Nestorine Nedjim

Country of Origin: Central African Republic
City/State: Kansas City, Missouri
Year of resettlement: 2011

Nestorine Nedjim, an ethnic Kaba from the Central African Republic, arrived as a refugee in Kansas City in early May 2011. She was only 26 years old, but had already experienced a lifetime’s worth of fear and suffering. Childhood polio left her with paralysis of her lower left leg. Her father died when she was still a teenager, and then the eruption of a brutal civil war led to the disappearance of her mother. Fleeing the violence in her homeland, Nestorine took her younger sister under her care and the two fled to Cameroon in 2007. They became separated en route and remained apart for two years, not re-uniting until 2009 when they discovered each other in Cameroon. The parallel suffering bonded the sisters and when Nestorine applied to be resettled in the U.S., her sister was part of her refugee case. By the time all the processing for resettlement had been completed, Nestorine had a fiancé and a child. When she arrived in the U.S. in 2011, she was accompanied by her 15-year-old sister, Prisca, and a 13-month-old daughter named Mathilde – three women, in the middle of a very strange country.

Nestorine knew no one in Kansas City except people at her resettlement agency, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS). The legacy of polio meant that she required wheelchair assistance throughout the long journey to the middle of America; and she could not stand for long periods. But she had the kind of determination and pride that overcomes mere obstacles. Within weeks of her arrival, Nestorine made it clear: she wanted a job and was willing to apply anywhere. In early September, JVS found just the right employer, who offered Nestorine a full-time position. JVS arranged child care  and Nestorine joined the work force. Nearly two years later, she’s still at it: supporting herself and her family. Her sister will graduate from high school this month, and her daughter attends a local Headstart program. She has petitioned for her husband, Mathilde’s father, to join her in America.  She’s not rich; maybe she never will be; but her life just keeps getting better through her own efforts.

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