When actress Emma Thompson attended the annual Refugee Council Christmas Party in December, 2003, she couldn’t have known how being there would change her life forever. Serving food at the party, she met Tindy Agaba, a 16-year old refugee from Rwanda who would, through adoption, become Thompson’s son. Beyond their mother-son relationship, they have a close friendship which has grown and developed over time.
Tindy had lost his entire family—his father to AIDS and the rest during the Rwandan genocide. At 13 years old he was kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier. At age 16 he went to the United Kingdom as a refugee, not speaking any English. Explaining how he survived, Tindy says, “You have to quickly adapt and accept that you have to learn new things and incorporate your background with the new environment… Those who have been most successful have tried to integrate, they’ve not completely left their background (behind) but they’ve accepted that life has gone on.”
World Refugee Day is this Saturday, June 20th, and The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is recognizing and celebrating the individuality of refugees. We often hear about refugees in terms of massive numbers that make it difficult to comprehend. Last year just under 60 million people were displaced because of conflict. Behind the statistics are the faces of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers who have endured the unthinkable. These are students, musicians, cooks, entrepreneurs, mentors and gardeners, who have lost their homes and work. They struggle to hold on to where they came from while acclimating to a completely new world. Each has a story the world needs to hear.
Maribeth is a 41-year old Colombian mother of four who loves to dance and dreams of opening her own restaurant. She was photographed and interviewed by Danish photographer Helena Christensen in the slums just outside of Bogota. Living in one of the world’s most conflict-ridden areas, Maribeth is a refugee in her own country, afraid to return to her hometown. She keeps working for the safety and well-being of her children.
Refugees are ordinary people living through extraordinary times. Tindy and Maribeth are just two examples of thousands. Yadira is a 15-year old who loves to roller skate; Ibrahim is a 10-year old who says he is alive thanks to his sister; Katia is a 23-year old mother who has had to flee fighting twice. Join us in supporting these and countless others on World Refugee Day.
Take Action Challenge
Get involved by supporting UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign. Share these individuals’ stories on Facebook and Twitter. Use #WorldRefugeeDay to join the online conversation. You can donate to help refugee families get the help they need.
Photos courtesy of UNHCR