On April 17, we at the Women's Refugee Commission (WRC) welcomed the introduction of S. 744, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013." For those of us who are veterans of the immigration reform efforts of 2006 and 2007, this day marked a long-awaited return to a serious national conversation about our immigration system. But April 17 also represented a major step forward for the protection of immigrant women's rights -- something we at the WRC have been working towards for more than 15 years.
Periodically, we’ll be featuring interviews with members of our staff talking about how they got into the field and what inspires them. Here we highlight Dhana Lama, Program Coordinator. Dhana supports the entire staff of the Women’s Refugee Commission with a wide range of administrative and logistical services, ensuring that operations run flawlessly.
Interview by Stephanie Selekman
A Tribute to Catherine O'Neill, Delivered by Jurate Kazickas
There was, quite simply, no one like Catherine.No one with her combination of intelligence, savviness, connections, compassion, brashness and passion.
More than 20 years ago, visiting refugee camps as an IRC board member, she saw with her own eyes the plight of young girls and women, how their specific needs were slighted or ignored, despite the fact that they were 80 percent of the displaced population.
Born in what is now South Sudan, Atim Caroline Ogwang lost her hearing when she was five when explosives left by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels detonated when she was picking fruit. She is currently human rights, sign language and gender officer of a nonprofit organization called the Southern Sudan Deaf Development Concern (SSDDC). At SSDDC, Atim Caroline promotes and advocates for deaf girls’ education, organizes deaf women to work towards self-reliance and capacity-building and calls for the full inclusion and participation of women with disabilities in international development programs. Among Atim Caroline’s many talents, she advocates through a performance art called deaf story telling with music.
Where were you born? Tell us about your family.
Soon after I was born in South Sudan, my family became refugees in Uganda. There are eight children in our family – three girls and five boys. I am number seven. I lost both of my parents in the war by the time I turned 10 years old. I was left in the care of my teenage sisters and brothers, all trying to survive in a very harsh environment.
Orphaned as an infant in Somalia, Dahabo Hassan Maow lost her leg after she was caught in crossfire at age 14. Unable to access sufficient assistance at the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, she was eventually referred to Heshima Kenya, an organization that supports unaccompanied refugee youth in Nairobi. Dahabo helped create the Maisha Collective, an entrepreneurship-training program designed to help vulnerable girls—many who have disabilities of their own—earn and save money. She resettled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 2010, which is home to over 50 percent of the U.S. Somali population. Dahabo is a role model for the potential of persons with disabilities to lead full lives.
Where were you born? Tell us about your family.
I was born in Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia. I never knew my parents or if I have sisters and brothers. I was an orphan from the time I was a small baby. My mother’s friend raised me.
Last week, the world received the sad news that Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer and poet, had passed away. The Women’s Refugee Commission’s Geneva Representative, Rachael Reilly, remembers one of his poems, “A Mother in a Refugee Camp,” that had a profound impact on her as an 18-year-old in England. Rachael has devoted her professional career to advancing the rights of refugees, particularly women and girls. As she wrote us the other day, “In a way, it all started with Chinua Achebe’s poem.” We are honored to share that poem with our friends and supporters.
A Mother In A Refugee Camp
No Madonna and Child could touch
Her tenderness for a son
She soon would have to forget. . . .
Earlier this month, the number of Syrian refugees passed the 1 million mark. According to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) there are now more than 375,000 Syrian refugees in neighboring Lebanon.
In any refugee crisis, persons with disabilities face significant challenges accessing vital humanitarian assistance programs. Emma Pearce, the Women’s Refugee Commission’s senior program officer for our disabilities initiative, is in Lebanon this month at the request of UNHCR to provide program advice and support.
During field visits with Handicap International and UNCHR’s community services team, Emma met people with newly acquired impairments as a result of injuries from the conflict in Syria. Agencies report seeing increasing numbers of refugees with new disabilities due to war injuries, and are coordinating with each other and Lebanese health services to provide medical care and rehabilitation. Emma also met with persons with developmental delays, hearing and vision impairments and their families – and noted that many are living in collective shelters that they share with other families, renting rooms in buildings still under construction or living in tented settlements.
Turtle Bay, the small neighborhood of New York that is home to the United Nations, is much quieter this week. Over the weekend, the last of the more than 6,000 advocates who were in New York for the United Nations’ annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) returned home.
This year’s CSW was the largest gathering ever assembled to address violence against women and girls, the theme of this year’s meeting. Some advocates, especially those who were unable to stay the full two weeks and see the meeting through to its conclusion, left weary and discouraged. It’s not that these advocates, of which I was one tired of hearing women’s stories, or failed to be inspired by the millions of women, girls—and increasingly boys and men—from South Sudan to Burma who are working to eradicate gender-based violence. These civil society activists, parliamentarians and others who spoke are models of how to work in extremely challenging conditions to end human rights abuses and gender inequality. Their efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable, including girls, those with disabilities and migrant and displaced women, moved everyone who heard them.