June 8, 2012

Dinner to highlight World Refugee Day celebration on June 20

As World Refugee Day nears on June 20, Gabrielle Neal, director of the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program, talks with Sajjad Mohammed Jawad, the 2011 Refugee of the Year who now works for Catholic Charities Indianapolis helping refugees adjust to life in central Indiana. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As World Refugee Day nears on June 20, Gabrielle Neal, director of the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program, talks with Sajjad Mohammed Jawad, the 2011 Refugee of the Year who now works for Catholic Charities Indianapolis helping refugees adjust to life in central Indiana. (Photo by John Shaughnessy) Click for a larger version.

By John Shaughnessy

It will be a day of emotion, filled with laughter, smiles and tears.

It will be a day of pride and celebration—for the struggles that have been overcome, the dreams that have been followed, and the hope that always guides the refugees who fled political and religious persecution to make a new home in the United States.

And the stories will flow on June 20 when World Refugee Day is celebrated during a special dinner hosted by the Refugee and Immigrant Services of Catholic Charities Indianapolis—an event at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis that will feature the food, culture and spirit of the refugees who have made central Indiana their new home.

The emotions and the stories of the refugee experience are always just a breath away for Sajjad Mohammed Jawad, who was named the Refugee of the Year at last year’s event.

He laughs when he mentions one of the differences in his two young sons between the time their family arrived in the United States from Iraq in 2010 and now.

“The difference in language is always a barrier for refugees,” he says. “When we arrived in the United States, my wife and two kids couldn’t speak English. Now when I talk in the English language, both of my sons are laughing at me when I talk. They are correcting my pronunciation.”

His eyes light up when he recalls the months that he volunteered to drive other refugees to appointments and stores.

“A lot of the refugees want to give me money,” he says. “I tell them, ‘If I wanted to do that, I would put up a sign that says taxi.’ I tell people if you need help, God will send someone to help you.”

And tears roll down his face as he remembers last year’s World Refugee Day Dinner when he was surprised with the Refugee of the Year honor.

“The best thing I noticed was that my wife and my two kids were clapping,” recalls Mohammed Jawad, who now works full time helping refugees for Catholic Charities Indianapolis. “When I was looking at my children’s small hands, I was happy.”

Those emotions often overflow during the World Refugee Day Dinner, says Gabrielle Neal, director of the archdiocese’s Refugee Resettlement Program.

“It celebrates the journeys of the refugees, from their struggles to their triumphs,” Neal says. “So we honor them by sharing in their culture, their dress, their stories and their journeys.”

The dinner will also feature ethnic food, an auction and the screening of Crossing Salween, a movie that shares the story of a girl trying to escape from the Burmese Army after they killed her father, took away her mother and burned her family’s home.

The event coincides with the United Nations observation of World Refugee Day, which recognizes the 10 million refugees in the world, Neal notes.

“Hundreds of refugees are brought to Indianapolis every year because they cannot return to their home country, and they do not enjoy basic rights in the country where they sought refuge,” she says.

“Catholic Charities Indianapolis helps these refugees integrate quickly into our community by providing them with the tools of self-reliance—housing, clothing, education, medical attention, job placement, employment skills, English language skills and community orientation.”

Mohammed Jawad is part of that team, using his ability to speak four languages—English, Arabic, Persian and Kurdish—to help refugees from Iran and Afghanistan.

“The rewards I get are in the eyes of the refugees,” he says.

He believes that the United States provides so many opportunities for refugees, and that refugees offer special gifts for their new country, too.

“America is the sweetest grape in the world,” he says. “I have the honor to live in the sweetest grape of the world. And the refugees are enrichening the blood of America. It’s important to have this variety.”
 

(Tickets for the World Refugee Day Dinner, which begins at 6 p.m., are $35 a person or $250 for a table of eight. For tickets, call 317-236-1528 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1528, or log on to www.catholiccharitiesindpls.org.)

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