The path of refugees is often full of hardships- financial and personal losses, separation, loss of identity and fear. Often these people leave more than their possessions behind. Often, they lose their cultural identity and face discrimination, hate and suspicion at the hands of their saviors. In this darkness, there are some who become a beacon of hope to millions escaping war, famine, and prosecution.
Tykn, a tech startup founded by Syrian entrepreneur Tey Al-Rjula, has just announced an investment of 1.2 million euros from Dutch IT entrepreneur Johan Mastenbroek. Along with social entrepreneurs Khalid Maliki and Jimmy J.P. Snoek, Al-Rjula founded the startup to provide the world’s stateless people with a virtual ID, through a blockchain-enabled digital identity management platform. It is an important step in getting closer to the world where identities are portable, private and secure so that no one has to lose access to their identity ever again.
Another such achiever, Manyang Reath Kher is the founder and CEO of 734 Coffee, the coffee-sales arm of Humanity Helping Sudan, an organization he founded in 2010 that offers Sudanese refugees various means of self-sufficiency. Launched in December 2016, the coffee company sources fair trade, organic coffee beans from farmers in Sudan and Ethiopia, and a portion of its profits to provide jobs and educational scholarships for Sudanese refugees in Gambela.
He was born in Sudan and became a refugee at the age of three, along with more than 20,000 other young Sudanese boys, who fled the country to escape a bloody civil war. Collectively, these displaced and commonly orphaned boys have become known as “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” The numbers “734” refer to the geographical coordinates (7 degrees north, 34 degrees east) of Gambela, Ethiopia, where over 250,000 displaced Sudanese refugees have fled conflict and hunger.
Canadian National, K’Naan, born Keinan Abdi Warsame, was 13 years old when he arrived in Toronto with his family from Mogadishu, Somalia. His grandfather was a famous poet and his aunt, Magool was a popular singer who often serenaded him growing up. The poet, rapper, singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist became an international sensation with his hit “Waving Flag” when he was chosen by Coca-Cola for their theme song for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Another Canadian making everyone proud is Windson Klber Laferriere, who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1953. When his father, the mayor of Port-au-Prince and under-secretary of state for trade went into exile, his mother followed soon after. Both feared the wrath of the Duvalier regime. In Montreal, he started out working in low-paying factory jobs, but he put his skills into writing his first book. Translated into English in 1987, “How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired” was a huge success. It was followed by several other novels in French, including two children’s books.
In 2009, his eleventh novel, “L’Enigme du Retour” won France’s prestigious Prix Medicis. It was translated into English by David Homel and released in 2010 as the “The Return”. In December 2013, in one ballot, Dany Laferriere was elected to the Academie Francaise. He is the first Haitian, first Quebecer and first Canadian to be given this honor.
People will remember the recent upset of Serena Williams to the hands of Bianca Andreescu at the 2019 U.S. Open for years to come. Bianca was born in Mississauga to Romanian parents who moved there in 1994. Andreescu started playing tennis at age 7 in Pitești, under Gabriel Hristache, when the Andreescu family moved back to her parents’ native Romania. A few years later, the Andreescus returned to live in Canada, where Bianca trained at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga. When she was 11 years old, Andreescu joined Tennis Canada‘s National Training Program in Toronto and started getting more serious about her career.
There are many such stories of refugees enlightening the lives of people where they seek asylum. Perhaps, a little faith, a little hope, and a little encouragement could turn all these lost identities into the ones people identify with.
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