7 January

Portrait, Sifa, A Refugee In America

by Jon Katz
Porstrait: Sifa

Sifa has been in America for only a few months, she speaks little English and is hoping her  husband, back in a refugee camp in Tanzania, will receive a visa to America. It is proving difficult. So she is alone in America with eight children, four from a previous marriage. Her first husband died in the camp.

One thing I have noticed about many of the refugees that I have met is this: their stories are often blood-curdling. They faces murder, rape and starvation. They never mention their nightmares unless ask, and they say little.

They don’t seek pity and are almost astonishingly forgiving and forward-looking. They are eager to work hard and prove themselves. They are no threat to anyone here.

Sifa was in a camp for 20 years, and quite often the refugee camps are just another kind of nightmare. But it does not show in  her face, which is gentle and loving. She is very nice, and she has every right to be not so nice.

We learned today that she did not have a winter jacket, so we gave her a beautiful sweater I found in a Thrift Shop and was  saving for someone who needed a sweater. We also gave her a scarf, she has been walking around Albany in this cold with no jacket.

She spends what aid money she gets on her children, there is nothing left for her. We will be visiting her again. She greeted me with a big hug, and said goodbye with another. There is a lot of heart there.

She is a wonderful choice to be the first recipient of our food and necessities program for the refugees who come to New York State.


    1. There are several thousand refugees in northern New York State Lorlee, the clothing drive was wonderful, but it helped a tiny fraction of them. And the clothes were gone in a heartbeat. It would take millions of dollars to give every refugee and their children all of the things they need, and in a time when government is sharply cutting back on aid, that is a task much too large for us. And there are thousands worse off than Sifa. Yesterday, we brought her some warm things, and we will bring her some more.

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