Peace Corps Refugee Film Fest: These films remind me that “our humanity is universal”

June 25, 2020

Over 60 people attended the World Refugee Day Film Festival hosted by the Peace Corps Community for Refugees on Saturday, June 20, 2020!

Below you can find the full recording of the event as well as selected excerpts and comments from the audience.

We watched Navigating Hope by Sayed Najib Hashimi, Seeking Settled Ground by Mohammad Arifuzzaman, and Worlds Apart at Home by Abdirahman Abdi.

The three films paved the way for a rich, hour-long discussion about a variety of interrelated topics including racism, integration challenges, obstacles for immigrant women, refugee myths and things any American can do to make the US a more welcoming place to newcomers.

Guest speakers included Awale Farah, a Somali-American engineer and city council candidate in Kent, WA; Nai Oo, a voter rights worker in Atlanta, Georgia, Myanmar refugee and returned Peace Corps volunteer ; Mani Biswa, a Bhutanese refugee, refugee resettlement case worker in Columbus, Ohio and subject of Navigating Hope; and Suzy Khachaturyan of the North Carolina Justice Center and a returned Peace Corps volunteer.


The Challenges Refugees Face

The following three excerpts highlight the integration challenges that refugees face when entering the United States and navigating the social, cultural, legal, and financial systems:

“I came from a country where everyone looked like me and I had to learn how to be a black man in the US.”

“You have to learn how to maneuver through the system … to make sure you are the ‘perfect minority.’”

Awale Farah, a Somali-American engineer and city council candidate in Kent, WA

“You are asking people who have escaped government oppression … to fill out a voter registration form … with their address … of course there is mistrust…”

– Nai Oo, a voter rights worker in Atlanta; Myanmar refugee and returned Peace Corps volunteer

“That was when the light came on…I had to let other refugees know…make sure you don’t send your kid to school and expect that … the education system will teach them and then they will be successful.”

– Awale Farah, a Somali-American engineer and city council candidate in Kent, WA

“I wish people had believed in me when I came to this country.”

– Mani Biswa, Bhutanese refugee; refugee resettlement case worker in Columbus, Ohio; subject of Navigating Hope

These films reinforce “my already strongly held belief that our humanity is universal. We just have to talk and get to know each other to “see” that humanity.”

I learned about some refugee support organizations and work being done in other states that may be valuable connections for the work that I am involved with in Madison, WI.”

“Growing up, there were times when I had more freedom than my sister.”

– Nai Oo, a voter rights worker in Atlanta; Myanmar refugee and returned Peace Corps volunteer

“I raised two daughters in the United States, and I had to push against the [Somali] culture that my girls can do as much as the boys. What is ironic is that when I was growing up in Somalia the girls could play basketball, girls did everything that the boys did…”

– Awale Farah, a Somali-American engineer and city council candidate in Kent, WA

“I had never considered the possibility of people who have limited film experience being able to tell their stories in this medium.”


The Contributions Refugees Make

“The misperception about refugees are that they create more crime, take away jobs, are a drain on the economy…none of which are true. In fact they pay more taxes than they get in assistance … and are doing many of the frontline jobs.”

– Michael McGirr, Event Facilitator, returned Peace Corps volunteer

“As Bhutanese refugees, we were able to become role models in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Columbus, Ohio.”

– Mani Biswa, Bhutanese refugee; refugee resettlement case worker in Columbus, Ohio; subject of Navigating Hope

These films helped me to see “how important the ESOL and computer classes are to refugees and migrants to get the necessary skills to adapt and succeed in this country.”


Ways That You Can Help Refugees

“I have seen for 40 years in of all places, Northeast Georgia, [native-born Americans] falling in love with refugees from all over the world. … Learning to meet people and to love them across all kind of barriers… I’ve heard this kind of spirit tonight. I want to get these movies and to show them to other people. I’m so inspired by what you folks are doing.”

– Don Mosely, event participant; returned Peace Corps volunteer; Jubilee Partners volunteer, Georgia

“This administration has cut a lot of funding …due to lack of funding [the refugee resettlement agencies] were not able to provide [vocational] training or even ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes.”

– Mani Biswa, Bhutanese refugee; refugee resettlement case worker in Columbus, Ohio; subject of Navigating Hope

“The system (SNAP, Medicaid, COVID assistance) is incredibly difficult. In every community…people with a little bit of time and people who know how to navigate the system can really help [refugees].”

– Evelyn Ganzglass, event participant, returned Peace Corps volunteer, DC

“Not being shy about asking questions… advocating for people in your community…accompanying someone to an appointment…being fluent in English is a huge asset already.”

– Suzy Khachaturyan, Policy Analyst, North Carolina Justice Center and a Peace Corps volunteer

“Thank you so much for hosting this forum. I really hope that more people understand the terrific contributions refugees make to our social, economic and political fabric. Films and panelists were great.”


Here is the full version of the event:


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1 Comment

  1. Judy B. Smith, RPCV, Niger 2010-2011, Armenia 2011-2013

    Great to see the recognition of hard working Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who continue to support the cause for fair treatment of refugees as they try to make a better life for themselves in the US. By sponsoring this film fest, the Peace Corps Community 4 Refugees demonstrates a desire to further educate all RPCV’s about the plight many refugees face in trying to immerse themselves into a new, foreign culture. The sponsoring of such a film fest encourages viewers to open their hearts and lives to those struggling with obstacles in daily life many of us consider to be routine activities when to a refugee, they are additional challenges atop those already faced in just getting here. Thank you to CSF for noting the success of the Peace Corps Community 4 Refugees film festival.

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