Why World Refugee Day Matters

Julia Oduol (center, with other GEM students) Photo credits: Jon Mercer

There are currently 68.5 million displaced people worldwide. Today, on World Refugee Day, SNHU is proud to introduce Julia Oduol, an SNHU student currently living and studying in Cape Town, South Africa. A recent associate degree graduate, Oduol is now earning her bachelor’s degree in business.

World Refugee Day is a significant day around the world where people take time to raise awareness, acknowledge and celebrate refugees. People are encouraged to show support of the women, men and children who are forced to flee their homes under different circumstances.

Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-American novelist and physician, said, “Refugees are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, with the same hopes and ambitions as us—except that a twist of fate has bound their lives to a global refugee crisis on an unprecedented scale.”

I am a woman, mother and sister, sharing my journey. I represent many other refugees that have walked the same path. I recently earned my associate degree and presented this speech at a graduation ceremony in South Africa in May, with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) President Dr. Paul LeBlanc and other SNHU leaders in attendance. My words left many in tears.

I’d like to share this message again, and reach as many refugees as possible, especially those who are going through a difficult time:

My Message to Graduates

Today I celebrate all the graduates. The journey that we all shared together from the beginning when it looked like an impossibility. We cried, we laughed, we encouraged each other and finally we made it. It was not an easy journey but with a positive mind, hard work and determination, we made it. The SNHU program has united us to be one big family – Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Togo, Nigeria and many more. Thank you everybody for sharing this special day with us.

We all had dreams when we were young… ‘I want to be a doctor… I want to be a pilot… I want to be a teacher… I want to be a professor… I want to be a policeman…’ so innocently without knowing what the future holds. Then you grow up and realize your dreams are shattered. A dark cloud passes by and it is so dark that all your hopes and aspirations are buried and it looks impossible to even think about dreams again.

Different circumstances force a person to flee from their country to seek safety, peace of mind, a better life, to mention but a few. Little do people realize that they have signed themselves up for even worse scenarios, from sorting out documentation to trying to buy a loaf of bread for the family. It’s even worse going to bed hungry. This seems like a very good story but unfortunately it is the reality of life. Nothing seems to make sense at all. Refugees often go through very tough times to be able to survive but still they rise. Sometimes they are even treated like bad apples that are here to destroy or cause trouble, but on the contrary it’s for survival. I just need to buy bread for my family, find shelter for my family, take my children to school and ensure they do not live on the streets … is it too much to ask for? Is there anyone even listening to me?

Julia Oduol
Julia Oduol

As I share my journey today, I represent many other refugees who have been through the same journey as I have and some even worse. Only the wearer of the shoe can tell. I arrived in South Africa 11 years ago to seek safety and in my mind I knew that every little thing is, in Bob Marley’s words, ‘gonna be alright.’ Julia, don’t worry about a thing. But this was not the case. I worried about everything because I was not sure what tomorrow would bring. The only thing I was left with was the hope and positive mind that my dad used to tell us every day. If you speak positively and believe, then only positive things will come your way, and if you speak and think negatively, only negative things will come your way. Yes, it is bad Julia, yes, it looks like you can’t make it, but do not give up. This takes me to the story of the frog. A frog decided to reach the top of the tree. All the frogs were shouting it’s impossible, it’s impossible but still the frog reached the top. How? Because the frog was deaf, and he thought everyone was encouraging him to reach the top by shouting, it is possible, it is possible. If your aim is to reach your goal, you have to be deaf to negative thoughts and destructions around you.

It is always important to stand firm in whom you believe you are, because we are all uniquely designed to run our own race. Each of us have lived through some tough times but that doesn’t mean that we are lesser than anybody else. We are all destined to win.

At one stage I was just a lump of red clay. Through SNHU (the potter) I have been rolled, spun, trimmed, moulded, brushed, painted, shaped and yet I am still a work in progress. The process has to be continuous to be able to get a beautiful end product. I am happy for the opportunity provided, and will forever be grateful because my life will never be the same again. I hope after completing my degree program, the process will give birth to women of worth, where women will be encouraged to take up their position in the society and empower themselves.

Here’s what some of my fellow graduates had to say:

“What was already a buried plan, forgotten dream, given up wish, has become alive again through SNHU. Today I feel alive, confident and ready to conquer the world. Through this learning journey SNHU taught me that dream and dedication are a good combination.

“SNHU changed my life, I was staying at home, very depressed trying to apply to all the other universities for 3 years and couldn’t get accepted. SNHU did not hesitate to open doors for me and I found my smile again.” – Donatha

“Thank you SNHU for your crucial intervention in my education dream. I have always dreamt of attending higher education but due to social and political problem in my country, my dream was interrupted and I was left in a situation that I couldn’t find other means to pursue university education. Now I am proudly studying on the international level and learning very useful life skills which have already influenced my current lifestyle and hopefully will help me fit better in the workplace, more importantly in the community.” – Willy

“Hard work will always pay, the SNHU program has helped me to persevere and never to lose hope but to always remember that there is a purpose for every journey. The purpose of this journey was to get my associate degree.” – Meddy

“I am so grateful to SNHU for this opportunity, sometimes I don’t find words to describe my happiness, not only through the change I feel but I am becoming a better person. It gave me hope and I started to believe again in the future.” – Consolee

Thank you very much SNHU and team for celebrating our graduation together with us, for being a home away from home. For providing education to the most vulnerable. For reviving dreams that were buried but are now alive, for creating employment opportunities for graduates, for the support system and the love and care.

Lastly to the graduates, we have come from very far and we still have a long way to go. Let’s keep pushing, let’s keep supporting and holding each other’s hands because together we can do it.

Hope for the Future

Today, on World Refugee Day, Southern New Hampshire University celebrates the men, women and children, like me – and the other refugees – that have endured so much in life but still push through with hope that tomorrow will be better than today.