PROVIDENCE — Prem Karkileft behind his home country of Bhutan, where oppression left people “living under cover of darkness.”
Through his poetry, Karki addressed World Refugee Day observers Thursday at the State House. He recounted the intolerance and autocracy that caused him to flee. But he also looked forward: “With bright mind and visible eyes, we create the new world … we are in the new day.”
Three Rhode Islanders who have worked to support refugees on the path to self-reliance were honored: Sammy Ndayisaba, a leader in Rhode Island’s Burundian refugee community; state Rep. Scott A. Slater, D-Providence, and Susan M. O’Donnell, a human resources director at Newport’s Hotel Viking, for supporting refugee employment.
The celebration was hosted by the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island (DIIRI) in partnership with Welcoming RI, the Rhode Island Department of Health, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. Governor Chafee and other state officials also spoke.
The United Nations established World Refugee Day in 2000 to honor “the courage, strength and determination of people forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”
Marie Uwera, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, told those gathered in the State Room that she speaks 18 languages, “but when I came here I didn’t know how to speak English.”
In the three years since she arrived here, Uwera managed to add English to her language roster. She is furthering her skills at the Community College of Rhode Island, and “I will learn more and more, until I feel — I did it!” she said.
Ruth Lal Hmachhuani, who fled Burma in 2007, came from a border town with India “where we had our family businesses, a local pharmacy and a small department store,” she said. “I had to leave all of that behind because we were not safe.”
“When I arrived in Rhode Island, everything was new and I had to start my new life from the first step …”
Four years later, Hmachhuani has worked as a medical interpreter, and for the Providence Granola Project, which helps newly arrived refugees with a first job, and training. She bought a house last year, and assists other refugees.
“We are working very hard, me and my husband,” she said. “I have to make my future. I want to see my goals (accomplished) right now.”