According to state and federal records, since October 2010, nearly 15,000 refugees have settled in Pennsylvania. From October 2014 to September 2015, the Philadelphia area became home to more than 3,600 refugees.
The United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia recently recognized the plight of refugees, honoring Delaware County residents Matilda Issata Sawie and Adama Bangura during its annual garden party fundraiser.
“My life here has been the best ever,” said native Liberian, Matilda Issata Sawie. “My goal is to someday work for the United Nations and work with refugees.”
A Yeadon Borough resident, Sawie lost her father to violence during the Liberian civil war 25 years ago. With her mother and siblings, Sawie fled to Guinea before moving to a United Nations refugee camp where they lived until 2006.
“My life is like a book,” said Sawie whose sister died from an illness before she and her family were forced to flee their home. “The psychological trauma I still deal with today is overwhelming. My memories of my childhood are filled with pain.”
In spite of her trials and tribulations, Sawie pursued opportunities to learn while living in the refugee camp. After being denied family resettlement by the United Nations, Sawie ended up in the United States after winning a U.S. State Department-sponsored Diversity Visa Lottery.
“Education is very important to me,” said Sawie. She continued her academic pursuits once in the United States, enrolling in Delaware County Community College, where she met Bangura, a fellow refugee and Sierra Leone native.
“My sister had a dream one night and told the family that she dreamed rebels would attack,” Bangura recalled. “The next day they were at our house, taking away people in my family and my friends in my neighborhood.”
“I saw a neighbor get her ears and hands cut off. She screamed in pain and begged for help before she ran and stumbled to her death,” Bangura shared.
In 2001, Bangura and her family were forced to flee to Guinea and began living in a United Nations refugee camp. With the help of her brother who was living in Northern Virginia, Bangura’s mother and her eight siblings filed to immigrate to the United States as refugees.
“I didn’t know what life was going to be like in America, but I didn’t care,” said Bangura. “I looked in the sky while on the airplane ride to the U.S. and said ‘God is great!’”
Both Bangura and Sawie earned degrees from Delaware County Community College. Earlier this year, Sawie received her bachelor’s degree in Public Health from Temple University. Bangura is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Temple.
“This is a great opportunity for us to engage and recognize our neighbors that have been impacted by the global refugee crisis,” stated Dr. Christiaan Morssink, Executive Director of the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia.
Last year the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2015 to 2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent. The campaign aims to provide a framework for people to join together with those of African descent and take effective measures to implement activities in the spirit of recognition, justice and development.
“We think this is a wonderful collaboration,” exclaimed the Rev. Dr. Lorina Marshall-Blake. Representing the Omega Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Marshall-Blake and members of AKA’s Rho Theta Omega Chapter were “happy to support the garden party and look forward to continuing our partnership with the UNA-GP.”
Locally, Omega Omega and Rho Theta Omega partners with the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia to implement Model UN mini-simulations in area schools.
In addition, the United Nations Association of Greater Philadelphia prides itself on setting an agenda for change, contributing to the globalization of Philadelphia and being a resource that supports the ideals and vital work of the United Nations. Bangura expressed appreciation for the work of the UNA-GP.
“In America, you have every opportunity to achieve your dreams,” said Bangura. “With the support of organizations like UNA-GP, today will always be better than yesterday.”