Portland, Maine- Iman isn’t your typical high school senior. She’s class president, national honor’s society member, Americorp volunteer and slam poet. She likes to write and sing. She speaks Arabic, German and French, and she’s currently translating a driver’s manual for the Catholic Charities office in Portland.
She’s also a refugee.
She arrived in the U.S. on March 28, 2015. She was one of 450 refugee who arrived in Maine in 2015.
With her mother and four siblings, Iman escaped Sudan in 2010.
Prior to leaving, her family was wealthy. her mom was a successful business woman. They lived in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, in a big white house with two drivers and three maids.
But the security organizations began to threaten Iman’s mom. At one point they detained her.
“I left everything, only two set of clothes,” she said. “Everything–even our clothes were there in the closets. Everything–our food in the fridge and everything. We decided in five minutes to leave Sudan. For nowhere, you know, Egypt was not our country.”
After leaving Khartoum, the family headed to Egypt where they lived for five years.
“[Mom] made us get used to a certain kind of life and then just poof,” Iman said. “She thinks that she snatched it away. So most of my stay in Egypt I tried to be as positive as possible even though I was depressed because it was the only thing to do. Because of her; because she’s wonderful.”
A year after they arrived in Egypt, the family applied for refugee status. They often waited outside for hours before meeting with someone who could help.
“In Egypt you get to stand under a burning sun for six hours and then you get verbally scolded and dragged into an appointment,” Iman said. “They treat you like you’re nothing which is really dehumanizing.”
In 2012, they were granted refugee status, but they didn’t leave until 2015. That spring, the family was notified that they’d been accepted for resettlement in Maine.
“We found out that we’re traveling two weeks before and we got very excited, ‘Oh my god we’re getting out of here!’” Iman said. “Once we came here, the first few months were pretty hard. They were pretty depressing to me at least because I felt like I’m still not belonging to any place.”
So she channeled that emotion into getting involved at her high school. Two months after starting school, Iman was elected class president. She’s also found solace in her uniqueness.
“I feel like I don’t need to fit in,” Iman said. “I just feel like, hey you know, there’s a lot of fish in the sea but I’m a pink zebra fish.”
Bethany Edmunds, community integration liaison and volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities, says that not all refugees have the opportunity to resettle like Iman.
She also noted that 80 percent of the global refugee population is made up of women and children.
Like many organizations who work to resettle refugees, Catholic Charities struggles to find enough funding to meet demand. Edmunds said that many years ago they used to have funding to manage a refugee’s case for 36 months. Now that funding only lasts one to three months. Catholic Charities is the only organization in Maine that resettles refugees.
Iman knows first hand that refugees need help. And she’s determined to provide that help.
After graduation, she plans to go to school at a top university. “Berkley or Boston College or University,” she said. She’ll study international relations. Or maybe molecular biology, she can’t decide.
“I want to do something that gets me to the United Nations,” Iman said. “You know, I feel like I want to do a lot of things for refugees.”
And she’s well on her way. She recently applied to speak at the UN in Geneva on behalf of young refugees. She really wants to be accepted. “Fingers, toes, everything crossed,” she said.
In her application essay she wrote:
“America is not my refuge, even though I’m a refugee.
Laughter is my refuge.
Positivity is my priceless commodity.”
By | Samantha Harrington, Hannah Doksanksy and Josie Hollingsworth