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Refugees give lecture at College

Jessica Robbins | Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A small group of Saint Mary’s students and faculty from across the country learned about life from four very special refugees Monday night in the Stapleton Lounge in LeMans Hall.

Janice Pilarski, coordinator of the Justice Education Program, introduced Jasminka Giezenaar, Joseph Bukassa, Jean Baptiste Cyusa and Ghada Kalid to share their personal and very emotional experiences to help celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Declaration of Rights during a lecture titled “Speaking Truth to Power.”

Giezenarr, originally from Bosnia, has been in the United States for 10 years and her road here has not been easy, she said. Her story started in the 1990s over religious wars in Bosnia.

Gizenarr, whose married parents were of different religions, said, “If you were not Orthodox, you were practically told to move out because you were a minority.”

The Red Cross helped her and her family over the Bosnian border to a neighboring nation. From there, her family moved to Germany where more religious contradictions nearly forced them, yet again, out of the country.

Fortunately, a local member of Saint Joe’s Catholic Church and a Saint Mary’s alumna, Lori Pinter, sponsored Giezenaar and her family during their difficult time of complete transition into the United States.

Bukassa of the Congo demonstrated his story as one of change. Change from a life of stability and strength to a war-ridden and politically unstable nation before he could even begin to fathom how the world around him was shifting, he said.

“In my country, men never cry; never weep. But since I have been here, I have cried nearly every day,” Bukassa said.

While going through the long process with the U.S. Embassy, Bukassa was forced to spend time away from his loved ones for months at a time in order to ensure a better life for his loved ones.

Cyusa, formally from Rwanda, was once a very prestigious businessman in his country. In 1991, he started his own business after obtaining a master’s degree in Architecture, and for a while led a comfortable life.

In 1993, political battles between two groups, the Tutsis and Hutus led to genocide for thousands of Rwandan residence under Hutu rule. By 1995, Cyusa lost his job and his way of life. “Suddenly,” he said, “you lose.”

His advice to Americans is to be thankful: thankful for a new day, your friends and your family, and to never, ever give up.

Kalid, a refugee from Sudan, inspired hope and desire to do something to fight the problems of human rights today. The war-torn country brought pain to many citizens of Sudan in 1989 and still today.

After her father was detained and released multiple times, her family made the decision to escape to Egypt and later to the United States. Within this time, she and the rest of her family were separated from her father.

She received an education and has lived and worked in America, and her experience has inspired her to work to build a culture bridge between the United States and Sudan by writing for a newspaper in her home country, she said.

These bi-weekly reports show its readers that “it doesn’t matter who you are; you are alike in so many ways,” Kalid said.

Bukassa closed the lecture saying, “You are living in bliss in this country. Go outside and you can see how people are suffering, for nothing … This country is like heaven.”