Growing up, Ann Kamunya witnessed first-hand egregious violations of human rights — in particular, against women. This completely changed her perspective of and outlook on life, and what she wanted to do with hers.
"I went to school with so many girls who were forced into arranged marriages at a very young age or had to go through genital mutilation," she says. "Witnessing these injustices and being surrounded by people who couldn’t speak up for themselves, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer and represent the marginalized and the least privileged people."
“Through my experience with the refugees, I have found the real meaning of my life.” With these words, Endah Ayuningsih Yuliarso (Indonesia, 33) summarizes her life-changing experience, which demarcated a shift in her personal career from dealing with numbers to supporting refugees.
“Most of my career as a lawyer was spent representing corporations and high net worth individuals. I always felt that my efforts mostly ended up adding digits in someone’s bank account,” explains Endah.
It takes two hours to cover the 60 kilometers between Batouri, the capital of the Kadey department to the Lolo refugee site. Near the border with the Central African Republic (CAR) in the commune of Kentzou, the camp hosts a population of over 13,000 refugees from CAR. Fleeing a war-torn country, these vulnerable communities, predominately Muslims, settled at the site from the beginning of 2014.
“Some people begin to see refugees as numbers — or even worse, as threats,” says Anja Ingabire, a UN volunteer with UNHCR in Jordan. “Behind each refugee there are personal stories of loss and tragedy. Every story is unique and touches you in a different way. It is the person who makes the story.”
As we sit on our comfortable couches at home and watch TV or read articles about refugees in areas of crisis or conflict, it is easy to become desensitized to the plight of this most vulnerable demographic.
Liliia Huzeieva, 22, will never forget the summer of 2014. Just a teenager at the time, Liliia was forced to leave her hometown of Donetsk shortly before the armed conflict escalated in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
“The hardest part was not only losing my home, but also being separated from part of my family,” Liliia says. “My father decided to stay in Donetsk as he didn’t want to leave, so I don’t see him anymore.”
This displacement motivated Liliia to seek the good in an otherwise tragic situation by resolving to help others who faced similar adversities.
When the war in Syria began in 2011, Elsie Aroyan was working as an elementary school teacher in her hometown of Aleppo. But instead of teaching a lesson one day, Elsie would learn one that would change the trajectory of her life.
“My husband and I were in a remote city visiting our relatives when the situation in Aleppo became worse and we couldn’t go back home,” she says. “When I closed the door of my apartment 8 years ago, I thought I would be leaving for a week, but ended up leaving my home for good.”
Farah Nassef, 26, knows how easy it is to lose everything and be driven out of your home.
“One of my relatives was forced to leave the country to avoid the forced military conscription of her sons. She left her house, friends, and the life she had built up for decades due to the devastating consequences of the war,” Farah explains.
Countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have witnessed some of the highest levels of migrations over the past few years, leaving millions of migrants and refugees in need of critical assistance and life support.