Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Making a Difference for a Family

Hello to friends and family who might read my blog from time to time. If you follow me regularly, you might know that I don't always have a penchant for inspirational or heartfelt words, so I'll paste my friend and fellow UNHCR colleague's plea below. My only comment is that I've met this man, and he has a very compelling story.

Dear friends and family,

As many of you know, I worked for the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for a year after I graduated college and have since returned to the agency this winter to assist the Caribbean Unit with their response to the January earthquake in Haiti. Throughout my time working with the UNHCR, I have interacted with hundreds of refugees and asylum-seekers but I have never felt moved to ask others to help fund-raise for an individual.

Last week, however, a refugee from Rwanda named Julius Tumushabe came to our office and I happened to answer the door and begin speaking with him. After only a half-hour conversation, I knew that he was someone I wanted to help in any way I could, even if it meant trying to personally raise funds. Upon investigating more about his history and speaking with the attorneys which represented him, my feelings that he was a very special case were confirmed.

Julius, who was born in Uganda and is a citizen of Rwanda, was persecuted in Rwanda by government authorities for his political opinion. He was arrested, beaten and tortured, his oldest son and niece were murdered, his wife was raped in front of him and he himself was shot during his successful escape from armed soldiers. After the last attack on his home in 2003, his family disappeared and Julius presumed his wife and children were dead. In 2004, Julius was able to enter the United States where he was granted political asylum in October 2005.

Thankfully, Julius had discovered that his oldest daughter Ruth, who had been sleeping over at a friend’s house on the night of the attack on his family home, was alive in Rwanda. Ruth was finally reunited with Julius 2 years ago. However, his wife and the rest of his surviving children were still missing at the time.

In early 2007, Julius discovered, after thousands of dollars spent on private investigators, that his family was alive in a refugee camp in Uganda. Julius quickly filed petitions with US immigration for the rest of his family to join him in the United States. The petitions were finally approved in February 2009, six years after he came to the US.

Julius’s family lives with an acquaintance in Uganda, but Julius himself supports them entirely on his own. He maintains 2 jobs while studying to continue his professional career in the health field. His current lack of funds to finance his family to come to the US is prolonging their separation and threatening to inhibit their reunion as his family's visas are set to expire this summer.

Since Julius is a recognized refugee in the United States, the UNHCR is unable to commit to assisting him at this moment because much of their funding in the US office goes to help persons who are still in the process of seeking asylum or being resettled. His previous attorneys from AYUDA, (a local non-profit), were so touched by Julius, however, that they are taking it upon themselves to also personally fund-raise for him, one stating that “Julius, more than any other client, has affected me personally because of his very tragic past and his hope for a prosperous and peaceful future.”

The cost to fly his four family members from Uganda to the United States will total several thousand dollars. While I recognize there are a world full of needs to contribute to and it is very difficult time financially (both realities I am well aware of as a volunteer for the UNHCR), I believe some people cross our paths for a reason and all we can do is try our best to support each other in any way we can. Therefore ANY contribution—whether monetarily in any amount, by sending this message on, and/or through thoughts/prayers—would be greatly appreciated and will go straight to helping Julius and his family.

If you are willing and able contribute, checks can be made out to me (Laurelyn) and I will write a check for the tickets, or you can make the contribution directly to “Julius T--” and send to:

I've been inspired by Julius' story and unlike some things on TV, I'm sure exactly where this money is going - to the family of a brave man from Rwanda. Well, rather to an airline company (great. I ruined it), but you get the point. I've edited out Laurelyn's full name and address for privacy reasons, so please contact me if you'd like to help.