"From Refugee to Resilience:
Stories of Loss, Hope, and Survival"
In celebration of Dorcas International's 100th Year, these stories reflect the unique journeys of immigrants worldwide.
Written by Alli-Michelle Conti
A DESPERATE JOURNEY TO SEEK A BETTER LIFE
Journeying by foot and car from Guatemala through Mexico, Yony Garcia then only 17 was an unaccompanied minor determined to make it to the United States. Hailing from the impoverished Western highlands state of, Quiche, he worked numerous construction jobs in order to help support his family. Yet despite his efforts, they fell deeper into debt. Seeing no other option, his family paid a "coyote" or human smuggler to guide him on the dangerous journey.
When Yony’s small boat capsized crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico into Texas – or the Rio Bravo, as he and local Mexicans call it – Bravo is Spanish for wild, ferocious, harsh; he didn’t think he would survive.
WHEN THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC HIT, IT PUT EVERYTHING IN JEOPARDY
Expectant mother, Leah Byogo, was scheduled to fly to the United States as a refugee in February of 2020. When the global pandemic hit, it put everything in jeopardy. She had been waiting 22 years, since age eight, to leave the Tanzanian refugee camp she had come to call home. Problems with water, sanitation and hygiene, in the Nyarugusu camp remains a challenge especially for pregnant women.
A doctor accompanied Leah, her husband, and three children – ages 5, 10, and 12-years-old – on the flight. Leah left behind family and friends to relocate to a foreign country at the riskiest of times. But she had little choice.
A DREAM COME TRUE: SERVING THE AMERICAN FLAG, AND ITS PEOPLE
As a young boy in Liberia, Nathan Nagbe-Lathrobe dreamed of reaching the shores of America. He wanted to be an all American boy even emulating the way Americans speak. He somehow felt destined to live here. In 1989, after civil war broke out in his home country of Liberia, his life took an unimaginable turn that would eventually lead him to the US.
As the oldest of nine children, Nathan felt an obligation for his family’s safety and well-being. During the war, fighting between various rebel groups caused indiscriminate killings including that of his close relatives. Forced to navigate through streets littered with bodies – in order to get food for his siblings and grandmother – it’s a haunting memory he will never forget.
NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE, REMEMBER THE ROAD HOME
Nirva LaFortune departed Haiti at the age of three on a plane. She left home, as an undocumented minor, to reunite with her parents in the US. She’s part of the more fortunate legacy of “Boeing people” known for arriving by air. “Boat people” like her young cousin dangerously came to the US by sea. Remarkably, she wasn’t fearful. But heartbroken for the caretaker she left behind. “I don’t remember her face, but I always have her image in my head. I can see an older woman with this beautiful dark caramel complexion and hard hands. I don’t remember her smiling because she was protecting me.”
She lived in the city of Port-au-Prince during the horrific Duvalier “Baby Doc” dictatorship. It was a brutal time in the mid-80s when Duvalier’s soldiers would go into homes kidnapping children. Nirva’s parents left her in the trusted guardianship of a woman named, Celevie, so they could start a new life for their daughter in the US. As a young girl, not fully understanding that she was fleeing Haiti, Nirva promised to return for Celevie. And could not predict – what the elder, wiser woman already knew – they would never see each other again.
A FAMILY DIVIDED: SEPARATED WITHOUT LOSING HOPE
Ophni Arreaga received notice from the U.S. government that he must return to his native country of Guatemala for an immigrant visa in order to stay. It was expected to be a quick trip. But when five uncertain months passed, his wife, Ana Rivera, an American citizen born in Puerto Rico, feared that he may never return.
“I felt like my world came to an end,” Ana says.
Seventeen years ago, Ophni crossed the southern U.S. border without authorization. He left behind the hardships of Guatemala and everything familiar to find refuge in the U.S. Since then he met, Ana, and together they built a loving family with their three children.
“In many countries there’s a lot of people suffering with crime and political oppression. There are many
reasons why [someone would come to this country undocumented]. I was fortunate enough that when
I came to this country, I was able to come with my green card, but that process took 10 years.”
Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos
“We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.”
Behind the Words
I’ve had the opportunity to interview high-ranking politicians to accomplished nonprofit and corporate executives.
My greatest honor remains speaking with immigrants, refugees and newcomers from all around the world including those from war-torn, poverty-stricken places like Ukraine, Guatemala, Haiti, Congo, Syria, Liberia, Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan.
I’m passionate about stories with cultural impact. And inspired by those who better their own lives, as well as others through hard work and determination, despite extreme adversity. These narratives hold such rich histories and profound lessons.
My work has appeared on PBS NewsHour, Rhode Island PBS, The Boston Globe, NPR's The Public's Radio, The Providence Journal and more.